One of the rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates to be invited to this year’s debates is that a candidate must be on enough state ballots to win the majority of the vote. If the rules stopped there, the fall debates would be between four candidates - Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein.

The 15-percent rule

Unfortunately for the smaller parties, the rules do not end there. To be invited, a candidate must also show they have the support of 15 percent of American voters.

The support is measured by averaging the most-recent results of five major opinion polls. The identities of the polls that will be used this year have not been announced. In 2012, they were polls sponsored by ABC News/The Washington Post, NBC News/The Wall Street Journal, CBS News/The New York Times, Fox News and Gallup. The Gallup Organization is shying away from candidate polls this year, so it is likely someone will take its place. The most-recent results of polls maintained by Real Clear Politics show Clinton with 40.3 percent, Trump with 36.3 percent, Johnson with 7.1 percent and Stein with 3.4 percent.

The highest the two minor party candidates have gotten in a recent poll tracked by Real Clear Politics was a McClatchy/Marist poll for July 5-9 that showed Johnson with 10 percent and Stein with 5 percent.

Johnson, Stein have a long way to go

The situation is difficult for Johnson and Stein, but perhaps not impossible. The candidates have about six weeks left to show enough backing to get into the first debates.

They will have to hurry and it is unlikely they can build that much support over a limited period of time. The decision about the first debate will be made a little bit after Labor Day. Separate decisions will be made for subsequent debates. The presidential debate calls for three debates. They are scheduled for Sept. 26 in Dayton, Ohio; Oct. 9 in St. Louis, Missouri; and Oct. 19 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

One vice presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 4 in Farmville, Virginia.

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