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LWV of Norwalk: Rules permit holding debates, forums despite absent candidates

Election 2015NORWALK, Conn. – The League of Women Voters of Norwalk has submitted the following to explain its plan to hold forums/debates on certain dates despite some candidates having prior commitments:

The League of Women Voters of Norwalk Voter Service Committee would like to clarify the criteria that we are required to follow for candidate debates and forums. These are IRS rules that the League, as a 501(c)4 organization, is required to follow.  Please note that these same rules do not necessarily hold true for other organizations.

The League of Women Voters cannot hold “empty chair” forums or debates. That is, if we plan a debate between two candidates and one cannot attend, we are unable to go forward with the event.  The absent candidate cannot send a replacement or someone to read a statement; the event must be canceled.

The IRS does not consider it an “empty chair” forum when there are multiple candidates for a similar office. In the case of the candidate forums in October, this means that unopposed candidates or candidates whose opposition cannot attend are still eligible to participate. The League is permitted to hold a forum with absent candidates in such a case.

Examples:

  • One party’s District C candidate can attend and the other party’s District C candidate cannot attend the forum. The forum can still be held because there are multiple candidates participating, even though they are from other districts.
  • The same applies to a multiple district forum where a candidate is running unopposed. Even though he or she has no opposition, they can still participate because there are multiple candidates running for a similar office.
  • This also holds true for the Common Council race by district. There are two candidates from each party for each district. If one of those candidates cannot attend but the other three can, there can still be a forum because there are multiple candidates for the same office.

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