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Signs, balloons and American flags littered the floor during the Democratic National Convention in 2016. The Democratic National Committee announced changes Thursday that will transform the 2020 primary season. Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How Democrats are changing the primary debate schedule for 2020 candidates

The 2020 Democratic primary debate schedule will look significantly different than it did four years ago, thanks to new changes aimed at accommodating what is expected to be a huge field of White House hopefuls.

The new schedule, announced Thursday by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, includes guidelines on the number of official debates, when they’ll be held, and who will be eligible to participate. The DNC is planning to hold 12 primary debates, with the first one coming in June 2019.

“The more voters that see our candidates, the more voters [will] vote Democratic,” Perez said on a call with reporters.

Perez said his team has spent more than 100 hours talking to former campaigns, candidates and party members about how to best equip Democrats to win in 2020. The new schedule announced Thursday will make the primary process more inclusive and transparent, Perez said.

The 2020 Democratic primaries will include the “most inclusive debate process in [the party’s] history,” he said.

Here’s what to expect from the 2020 Democratic primaries:

12 primary debates, six in 2019 and six in 2020

The first debates will take place in June and July of next year. After a break in August, the DNC will hold one debate per month until April, 2020. The specific dates, locations and sponsors of each event were not announced, but Perez said the early debates will not be held in the first four states holding primary contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Two debates per round

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez speaks at Ralph Northam's election night rally on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - HP1EDB80BPO1W

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said the new rules would produce the party’s “most inclusive debate process” ever. File photo by REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

For each debate, the DNC is planning to divide the primary field in two, and hold separate debates on back-to-back nights. Any candidate who meets the threshold for participation, based on polling numbers and other factors, including grassroots fundraising, will be invited to participate in the debates. The DNC did not provide details, such as how high a candidate must be in the polls to qualify for the debates.

No undercard debate

When dividing the candidates into two debates, the cast for each will be randomly determined in order to maximize the viewership of both debates and give all the candidates equal opportunity to make a case to voters, DNC officials said. The decision appears aimed at avoiding the so-called “undercard” Republican primary debates in 2016. Those debates, held for GOP candidates who were at the bottom of national polls, drew smaller television audiences than the main debates with the frontrunners.

No outside debates

Democratic candidates can attend individual forums, but should only participate in debates organized by the DNC, Perez said. It’s unclear what would happen if candidates ignore the guideline and participate in debates that aren’t hosted by the DNC.

Fewer caucuses, more primaries

The DNC is reducing the number of caucuses to address concerns that caucuses, which require voters to be physically present, are less accessible for many voters. The DNC did not say which states would replace caucuses with primaries. The DNC also said that states would implement new rules to reduce barriers to primary voting, though officials did not provide specifics.

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