Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has until 12:01 a.m. Eastern time Thursday to qualify for next week’s presidential debate in Atlanta, according to CNN.

What You Need To Know

  • CNN's deadline for third-party and independent candidates to qualify for the June 27 presidential debate is 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday

  • Only President Biden and former President Donald Trump have met CNN's criteria

  • To participate, candidates must have at least 15% of the vote in four approved national polls of likely or registered voters

  • They must also appear on the ballot in a sufficient number of states to receive 270 electoral votes — enough to win the election

Only President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have met the network’s qualifications so far.

To be able to participate in the 90-minute debate in Atlanta on June 27, candidates need to meet constitutional requirements to serve as president and to file a formal statement of their candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. In addition to Biden and Trump, independent candidates Kennedy, Cornel West and Green Party candidate Jill Stein meet that standard.

But none of the third-party or independent hopefuls meet the additional criteria CNN outlined in May. Candidates must have at least 15% of the vote in four approved national polls of likely or registered voters. They must also appear on the ballot in a sufficient number of states to receive 270 electoral votes — enough to win the election.

CNN said it will accept poll results from 12 organizations that meet its reporting standards, including ABC News, Fox News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University. Kennedy has met CNN’s 15% criteria in three of the four required polls, including a CNN poll from April (16%), a Quinnipiac University survey from April (16%) and a Monmouth University poll in April (18%).

He is unlikely to meet CNN’s criteria for ballot access. As of Tuesday, the Kennedy campaign said he is officially on the ballot in nine states, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, and has collected enough signatures to gain ballot access in 14 others, including Nevada and New York.

But The Washington Post contradicted those claims Wednesday, saying Kennedy is only on the ballot in five states that total 42 electoral votes, based on calls to election officials in the states where the Kennedy campaign says it has already secured access.

“The law in virtually every state provides that the nominee of a state-recognized political party will be allowed ballot access without petitioning," a CNN spokesperson told Spectrum News. "As the presumptive nominees of their parties, both Biden and Trump will satisfy this requirement. As an independent candidate, under applicable laws RFK, Jr. currently does not.

“The mere application for ballot access does not guarantee that he will appear on the ballot in any state. In addition, RFK, Jr. does not currently meet our polling criteria, which, like the other objective criteria, were set before issuing invitations to the debate.”

In May, the Kennedy-Shanahan campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, saying the Biden and Trump campaigns had colluded with CNN to keep third-party candidates out of the first general-election presidential debate of the season.

The campaign alleged CNN held independent candidates to a different standard to qualify for the debate, violating an FEC requirement for broadcast media outlets to use pre-established and objective criteria to decide which candidates can participate.

The Kennedy campaign says Biden and Trump are merely presumptive nominees for their parties who won’t be officially nominated until the Republican party convention in Milwaukee in July and the Democratic party convention in Chicago in August.

In a statement, the Kennedy campaign said Tuesday it has asked the FEC to “enjoin the Parties from holding the presidential debate scheduled for June 27, 2024 until the Parties have come into compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act.”

A request for comment from the Federal Election Commission was not answered before deadline.

CNN hosts Jake Tapper and Dana Bash are scheduled to moderate the 90-minute debate. The network said Biden and Trump have both agreed to podium positions determined by a coin flip. During the debate, microphones will be muted when it is not the candidate’s turn to speak.