Utah Debate Commission investigation results: Lee vs McMullin debate

Jan 10, 2023, 2:01 PM | Updated: Jan 16, 2023, 4:01 pm
Sen. Mike Lee and Evan McMullin are pictured: (Ivy Ceballo and Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
(Ivy Ceballo and Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — On Oct. 12, 2020, after a debate between Sen. Lee and Evan McMullin, questions about fairness led to an investigation by the Utah Debate Commission. 

More so, the Debate Commission issued its findings.

The findings first state, “observations and reports from the debate were that the unbalanced crowd was disruptive and disrespectful.”

According to Phil Cooper, Utah Debate Commission Treasurer, the debate attendees were disproportionately in favor of Sen. Lee. Additionally, members of the crowd conducted themselves in a disrespectful and violating manner. 

As a result, the Board requested a review of the ticketing process.

Through investigation, officials found that ticket sales went live at 1:50 p.m. on Oct. 4. That said, this was not communicated by Director Erik Nielson to Lee nor McMullin’s campaigns until 6:48 p.m. that same evening. 

Further, Lee’s campaign was persistent in monitoring the ticketing process according to Cooper. And at 1:50 p.m. two tickets were purchased by Lee’s communications director. 

Within the next hour, 93% of the general public tickets had been reserved. Around five and half hours later when McMullin’s campaign became aware of the sales, no general public tickets were left. 

“I found no evidence that the Lee campaign was ‘tipped off’, received inappropriate inside information or received advance notice of the timing for ticket availability,” Cooper said in a press release.

“Rather, it appears that they became aware from checking the ticketing site regularly. Their assertiveness and near-constant monitoring gave them an advantage given the unfortunate timing of Nielsen’s email communication.”

Ticketing solutions 

Finally, the board is considering suggestions to avoid the situation from repeating.  Suggestions regarding both the ticketing process and management of the debate. 

Additionally, suggestions include, establishing a time for ticket availability and advertising it well in advance. Other suggestions are reserved seating, giving a larger percentage of tickets to students and potentially reverting to paper tickets.

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Utah Debate Commission investigation results: Lee vs McMullin debate