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Debates commission denies Trump campaign's request for 4th debate

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Washington — The Commission on Presidential Debates denied the Trump campaign's request for a fourth debate in early September, dismissing concerns that early voting could mean many voters will have cast ballots before the first scheduled debate. 

Campaign representative Rudy Giuliani sent a letter to the commission on Wednesday requesting an additional debate to accommodate voters casting their ballots early. Giuliani argued that an earlier debate should be scheduled, as several states will have begun early voting by the first debate on September 29. 

The three co-chairs of the commission responded in a letter of their own on Thursday, writing that although some states will have begun mailing absentee ballots to voters by the end of September, most voters are unlikely to immediately submit them.

"There is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates," the letter said. "In 2016, when the debate schedule was similar, only .0069% of the electorate had voted at the time of the first debate. While more people will likely vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been and will be highly publicized. Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity."

The co-chairs said the commission would consider adding a fourth debate if Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, joined Mr. Trump in requesting one.

In his letter, Giuliani slammed the commission's process as "an outdated dinosaur and not reflective of voting realities in 2020."

"For a nation already deprived of a traditional campaign schedule because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it makes no sense to also deprive so many Americans of the opportunity to see and hear the two competing visions for our country's future before millions of votes have been cast," Giuliani said.

Giuliani's push for an earlier debate comes as the Trump campaign has begun pouring money into advertising in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona, which are the four states that cast the majority of early or absentee ballots in 2016. In Arizona alone, three-quarters of the electorate voted before Election Day in 2016, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission

A greater influx of early and absentee votes are anticipated this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The commission said it had retained the Cleveland Clinic to advise it on conducting the debates safely.

"[W]e are working closely with the Clinic on all aspects of debate planning potentially affected by the pandemic," the co-chairs wrote. "The Commission will be ready for any contingency that is necessary as a result of the pandemic."

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