CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Voters hoping to attend the Democratic presidential debate in Charleston this month will be hard-pressed to find guaranteed tickets unless they pay thousands of dollars as a sponsor.
The last presidential debate before the South Carolina Democratic primary will be on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. at the Gaillard Center.
Voters Emily Kiley and Peter Davis have been volunteering and supporting Bernie Sanders's campaign for months.
"We watch every debate that goes on so now that one’s coming to Charleston that’s insanely exciting," Kiley said. "Of course the first thing we do is look for tickets."
The couple has signed up to be a part of more than 800 volunteers to help set up or work the debate.
“But there’s no access to tickets on any Democratic site that we could see,” Kiley said.
That's because tickets aren't readily available. The Charleston County Democratic Party website says "The only guaranteed way to get a ticket is to become a sponsor of the debate."
Sponsorship ranges from $1,750 to $3,200 each for attendance to multiple “First in the South” events.
Charleston County Democratic Party Chair Colleen Condon said neither the state nor local party knows how many tickets will be available to the general public. She said tickets are first handed out to organizers. Then, campaigns may get some tickets to disperse among supporters.
"This is something that the average person doesn’t usually get to go to," Condon said. "The Gaillard is only so big and this is something that is just a hot ticket from across the country. These kind of events really are set up for sponsors and things like that."
Condon also added that the ticket system is not unique to the Charleston debate.
“It’s completely usual,” Condon said. "This is exactly what’s happening in New Hampshire for their debate, Nevada’s debate and Iowa’s debate and so on.
Active campaign supporters like Davis said something like a democratic debate should be much more accessible to everyday voters.
"At the end of the day, it’s still a money game," Davis said. "Whoever has the most gets to attend these kinds of events that should be public and should be easily accessible."
Charleston voter Eileen Walsh said she was shocked to find out about the price of guaranteed admission.
"I think that’s impossible for us people that obviously don’t have the money to do something like that," Walsh said. "The people should be able to go to."
Voters can buy tickets online to the official watch party and other events leading up to the main event.
The debate is organized by the Democratic National Committee, the Black Caucus Institute, CBS and Twitter.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Three weeks after this story was first published and the day after national outlets, including The Washington Post, picked up the story, the Charleston County Democratic Party contacted Live 5 News claiming this story contained a factual error. County Chair Colleen Condon, who was interviewed on camera and quoted in this story, released this statement:
“The way my interview was edited with Live 5 News on February 6 was misleading. I made statements that more information would be coming soon about the ways volunteers would get tickets (such as the state party or campaigns or other organizations), but that was left out. Our website link was not accurate, and I had it removed when I realized such on Feb 7. The Charleston County Democratic Party did not have tickets to distribute for the debate. Tickets for the debate were never for sale, in fact, dozens of Charlestonians were able to attend the debate at no cost. I regret any confusion and misinformation caused from the Live 5 News story.”
After Condon’s statement, South Carolina Democratic Party spokesperson Greer Schneider released this statement:
"Individual tickets to the debate were not for sale. The SCDP gave our allotment of almost 400 tickets to community leaders, representatives, candidates, and super volunteers at no cost.
The SCDP offered sponsorship opportunities, as it has done in previous years, for several events leading up to the First in the South Primary, including tables for the First in the South Dinner, tables for the Spouses Luncheon, tickets for off-site Debate Watch and the Debate After Party. Every dollar raised at these events will go towards electing Democrats up and down the ballot in South Carolina next November."
The day after we published this report, the Charleston County Democratic Party removed the link offering a guaranteed seat in exchange for a sponsorship.
Live 5 News stands by our reporting.