Yesterday, just before the second GOP debate, a group of approximately 100 frustrated voters arrived at the Washington DC headquarters of the Democratic National Convention, bearing a petition with more than 23,000 signatures. The reason: to protest a rule limiting the number of primary debates to just six. By way of contrast, there were a total of 26 Democratic primary debates during the 2008 campaign. While the Republicans have already had two, the first Democratic debate is not scheduled until October 13th in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It is not clear just why the DNC has instituted this rule, but a spokeswoman for the Martin O’Malley campaign has an idea: “They’re doing this to rig the election for Secretary Clinton.”

That would seem to be the reasonable explanation – particularly given Bernie Sanders’ surging popularity in the polls and Hillary Clinton’s falling numbers. The O’Malley campaign spokeswoman, Lis Smith, adds, “We’ve been in contact with the DNC, [but] the chair has shown no willingness to change the schedule.” Nonetheless, there is rebellion in the air, as DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has been getting pressure from two committee vice-chairs.

Representatives from the Sanders campaign were also in attendance. One member of the crowd demanded that Joe Biden (who has not committed to running) be allowed to join the debates.

Although a few have suggested that the Democrats are keeping their proverbial powder dry while allowing the Republicans to burn themselves out, the entire strategy makes little sense.  As things currently stand, the GOP will reach an audience of up to 100 million more than the Dems. Furthermore, most of the GOP debates (there are eight more scheduled between now and March) are being held on major networks during prime time. So far, only one of the Democratic debates has been scheduled for prime time – and two of them will be shown on TV networks with smaller viewership. Furthermore, two of the debates are to be held in Spanish – although only three of the early primary states have sizable Spanish-speaking communities. Voters may not have to opportunity to hear candidates debate in English during the height of the primary season between the beginning of February and March 15th.

The protesters are supported by the AFL-CIO as well as the candidates themselves. Clinton says, “I would certainly be there with lots of enthusiasm and energy if they decide to add more debates.” However, Hillary in no way is actively pushing for more debates. Sanders says, “This country benefits…democracy benefits when we have debates, and I want to see more of them.”  O’Malley points out that there will be “only four debates before voters in our earliest states make their decision. This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before.”

“Rigged” seems to be the correct assessment, Mr. O’ Malley. Right now, the DNC is sacrificing opportunities to reach the hearts and minds of voters across the country. This failure will have direct bearing on which party takes the White House as well as Congress next year.

It almost seems that Wasserman-Schultz is trying to hand the election over to Hillary or the GOP candidate.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.