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The next debate, in the form of a town hall meeting, will take place on October 9 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Washington University in St. Louis)

Networks Agree to 'Open Debate' Format for Town Hall—So What's Your Question?

"Bottom-up participation isn't just about choosing topics. It's about allowing the public to truly frame the questions in a way that addresses what voters are actually asking at their kitchen tables."

Nadia PrupisDeirdre Fulton

ABC and CNN have agreed to consider "bottom-up questions"—those submitted online by the public—for inclusion in the October 9 presidential town hall debate, the bipartisan Open Debate Coalition announced Tuesday.

"For the first time, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has mandated that moderators of the town hall debate ask questions with input from the internet—not just questions from voters in the physical room," according to a press statement from the coalition, which facilitated so-called "open debates" in the 2013 special election for Congress in Massachusetts and in the 2016 U.S. Senate debate in Florida.

"We couldn't be more thrilled with how it worked out," Lilia Tamm, program director for the Open Debate Coalition, said following the Florida debate.

"Bottom-up participation isn't just about choosing topics. It's about allowing the public to truly frame the questions in a way that addresses what voters are actually asking at their kitchen tables," said Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green, who participated in negotiations with the networks. "We are very hopeful that ABC and CNN will maximize this opportunity. They seem genuinely excited to be leaders in debate innovation, and we hope to make open debates the new norm for debates in American politics."

Added Heather McGhee, president of Demos Action: "We've seen bottom-up online energy thrust new ideas like debt-free college into the national spotlight and 2016 presidential campaign. This same ethos would be a breath of fresh air for our political debates and a major step forward for democratic participation."

Already, the public is weighing in.

On the Open Debates website, submitted questions can be ordered by "Trending Now," "Most Votes," "Least Votes," and other filters. Many of the most popular questions had a progressive bent, such as:

Others leaned more to the right:

Those with the least votes had a range of concerns:

Though the debate moderators won't just be asking the publicly submitted questions—and people in the room will also be invited to participate—the networks have agreed to consider the top 30 online queries when they jointly plan the debate.

Members of the Open Debate Coalition, which formed during the 2008 election cycle, include representatives of the right and the left: Americans for Tax Reform, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, FreedomWorks, NARAL, Faith & Freedom Coalition Founder Ralph Reed, the National Organization for Women, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Color Of Change, Numbers USA, Presente, MoveOn.org, Arianna Huffington, former Mitt Romney senior aide Mindy Finn, craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Electronic Frontier Foundation President Cindy Cohn, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and many more.


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