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How to Form a State Debate Commission

Who is part of a state debate commission?

conference room meeting

Successful state debate commissions are created with partnerships between media representatives, academics, respected politicians, and civic and community organizations.

Media partners are essential as they can provide equipment, personnel, and broadcasting for the debate commission. Academic partners can contribute venues and pedagogical connections, while also helping organize the logistics of each debate. Respected politicians can help coordinate with campaigns, candidates, and political parties within the state to encourage candidate and party participation. Finally, civic and community organizations - including nonprofits and city clubs - can connect the state debate commission with public support, coordination, and fundraising.

Board members for the state debate commission often represent these essential partnership groups, including media, academics, civic, and professional.

How do we start?

Gauge interest among people in these various groups. Potential individuals include television general managers/news directors, broadcaster associations, newspaper editors, academics who run various centers and institutes, respected senior politicians, and representatives of non-partisan good government community organizations such as city clubs and the League of Women Voters.

Call a meeting. In the pandemic, this could be held by zoom. In more normal times, a central location such as a university campus or a large conference room of a community center might be a good venue. A lunch time meeting for an hour and a half or an afternoon meeting, particularly on a Friday, could be least disruptive to schedules and involve more participants.

Invite the State Debate Coalition to make a presentation. You can contact us by emailing

Use the meeting to discuss next steps. These could include:

  • Formation of an executive committee which would be responsible for
    • Identifying a chair or co-chairs for the debate commission - These should be respected members of the community who will help establish the reputation of the debate commission.
    • Drafting articles of incorporation and bylaws for the new organization
    • Determining the legal structure - There are at least two possible forms of legal structure. One is a connection with an existing non-profit such as a city club or a unit of a university such as a political center or institute. The other is the formation of a 501(c)3 with the Internal Revenue Service and registration with the state as a nonprofit.
    • Raising seed money that could be used to defray set up costs - Potential costs include registration fees, the salary of a part-time executive director, room rental, legal fees, etc.
    • Establish policies for the state debate commission - Important considerations include which political races to cover, which venues to use, the threshold for candidate participation and more.
    • Form a board - The board should include representatives of the organizations mentioned above, including the board's structure, regular meeting times and role. Make sure the board is non-partisan, bi-partisan, or multi-partisan. The board membership must not tilt towards one party or the other. If partisan groups are represented, their counterparts must be represented as well to assure candidates and parties view the state debate commission as fair.

Announce the formation of the state debate commission to the press. This could be accomplished by a press conference with the chair or co-chairs, members of the board, and others.

Join the State Debate Coalition. By joining the State Debate Coalition, your state debate commission will have a support group sharing set-up experiences and best practices. The State Debate Coalition meets monthly in a conference call.