High school students launch petition for female moderator at 2012 presidential debates

ByABC News
June 7, 2012, 11:58 AM

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It's been 20 years since a woman moderated a presidential debate, but three New Jersey high school students are hoping to change that this year.

Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis, three high school sophomores from Montclair, N.J., have launched a petition on Change.org, calling for the Commission on Presidential Debates to select a female moderator for at least one of the three 2012 presidential debates between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney in October.

ABC News' Carole Simpson, the last woman to moderate a presidential debate, served as moderator of a 1992 debate between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. PBS' Gwen Ifill moderated two vice presidential debates ( 2004's Dick Cheney-John Edwards and 2008's Joe Biden-Sarah Palin), but the rest have been moderated by men.

"The fact that there hasn't been a female moderator of one of the debates in so long is just another sign that America is a long way away from being as equal as it thinks it is," Axelrod said in a press release.

The petition--part of a project for their civics class--has collected more than 89,000 signatures since launching earlier this week.

"I'm signing so I don't have to listen to Wolf Blitzer," Eric King, one supporter, wrote. (Blitzer has never moderated a presidential debate, but told Yahoo News in January that he would be "honored" to.)

The girls did not explicitly suggest a moderator, but their page on Change.org includes a collage of six possibilities: Ifill, ABC News' Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, CNN's Christiane Amanpour and CBS News' Lesley Stahl.

The first 2012 presidential debate is scheduled for October 3 in Denver. The CPD said it will announce moderators for the debates later this summer.

Just two of the commission's 17 members are women.

Below is the students' full letter to the committee:

Dear Presidential Debate Committee,

A lot has happened in the United States since 1992--the last time a woman moderated presidential debates: the crashing of the World Trade Center, the election of our first African American president, and an increasing involvement of women in politics. Or so it would seem. Yet, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, women hold only 17% of the seats in Senate and 16.8% of the seats in the House of Representatives. In the past twenty years, they have made up 0% of moderators of the Presidential debates.

Women and men will never be truly equal in our country until they're one and the same in positions of power and both visible in politics. We need to take immediate action in order to move towards this change. It is time for a woman to have a chance to show what she's capable of by moderating debates in the upcoming election.

Please, in one of the three upcoming presidential debates, appoint a woman moderator.