With the first presidential debate upon us, just about every related topic you can think of is being raised on Change.org, the popular petition website. Dozens of debate petitions have been generated, with a collective signature count of a quarter million, according to a Change.org spokesperson.
There’s a petition for just about everyone. Some are serious, like the one in which more than 6,700 people are asking the Commission on Presidential Debates to open the events up to Libertarian and Green Party presidential candidates. Created by a group called Open Debates, the petition reads: "All presidential candidates who have qualified for placement on enough state ballots to win the Electoral College and the Presidency of the U.S. must be included in the presidential debates. American taxpayers and voters have a clear interest in having their ideas, positions, and voices included in the major presidential and vice presidential debates.”
A spokesperson for Change.org tells The Daily Beast that of all the debate petitions submitted, the one that's gotten by far the most attention is the one from three New Jersey high-school students—Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel, and Elena Tsemberis—who took on the commission after learning that there hadn’t been a female presidential debate moderator in two decades.
The last time there was a female moderator was 1992, when ABC’s Carole Simpson moderated a presidential debate between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. Unhappy with that information, the girls started a petition this summer asking the commission to open up this year’s spots to some qualified female journalists. Eight weeks and more than 122,000 signatures later, they apparently won their campaign.
CNN's Candy Crowley will moderate the second debate, on Oct. 16.
The commission has not said publicly if the girls’ petition influenced the decision to include Crowley, but many believe it did. Crowley recently told reporters she hopes to do the three girls proud.
Then there's Jessica Smith, 26, a Denver University graduate student majoring in social work who submitted a petition requesting moderators to ask the candidates about paid sick leave. The petition has garnered more than 4,400 signatures.
"When I got sick as a child, my mom struggled to take care of me. She had to take unpaid leave,” says Smith, who's currently doing an internship with 9to5 National Association of Working Women, which focuses on paid leave and other issues of interest to working women.
“More than 44 million hardworking people still do not have access to a single paid sick day,” she says. “I thought a petition would be a good idea. I started gathering signatures by hand, and had more than 100 in the first hour. We decided to put it up on Change.org."
“I know that Jim Lehrer receives an email every time someone signs my petition,” says one petitioner who’s advocating for paid sick leave.
Smith says the response to her petition has been "exciting. A lot of people who signed the petition have written comments about how this affects them personally. Neither candidate has really addressed this issue; it takes a back seat to the economy and the war. But it's an issue that affects so many." She doesn't know if the question will be raised in the first debate, but, she notes, "I know that [debate moderator] Jim Lehrer receives an email every time someone signs my petition, and I know that the people at 9to5 are following up with Lehrer's producer. So he is very aware of my petition. We'll see what happens."
On a lighter note, several Change.org petitions request that The Daily Show's Jon Stewart moderate one of the debates. The largest of these petitions has nearly 1,300 signatures.
Actually, having Stewart moderate a debate doesn't sound like such a bad idea. But Stewart will be busy preparing for his own debate with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly this coming Saturday. That 90-minute face-off—or debacle, depending on how you look at it—will take place at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium and will be moderated by CNN’s E.D. Hill. The sold-out event will be streamed live at TheRumble2012.com.