Debate season for the 2020 election cycle officially kicks off this week in Miami, when 20 Democratic Presidential hopefuls will hit the stage over two nights to the discuss the issues in front of a national audience.
Here in Orlando, I’ve sat through more candidate debate/forums than you can imagine and have moderated a few as well. In addition to being a proven way for organizations to fill seats at their events, these discussions also allow voters the chance to see candidates slug it out over the issues in person.
There is however a lot of space for improvement. Here are some changes I would make to the basic debate rules in 2020.
Give moderators the “greenlight” to ask follow ups or extend time on a question: Moderators are there to ensure the debate rules are followed and to preserve the peace. Unfortunately, there are times when an opening for a good discussion shows itself, only to be closed off by a moderator because of time or a technicality in the rules. If there is a good exchange taking the place give the moderator a chance to extend the question or ask followups.
Let the audience applaud and even laugh when appropriate: I don’t like quiet debates. We’re not talking about the issues in a library (except in Winter Park), let the people clap when they like an answer. Let them laugh at a funny joke. These are suppose to be powerful events and a gague of public sentiment. Let’s hear how the voters feel.
No cellphones at podiums or website referrals for answers: Remember the Alex Sink-Rick Scott debate? In 2010, then CFO, Sink was receiving texts from her campaign consultants during a commercial break. Phones shouldn’t be allowed at podiums. Candidates also shouldn’t be allowed to lean on a website when they don’t know the answer to a question. It’s a sign they don’t know their platform and an easy way out.
Rebuttals for “Vaugebooking”: I’ve seen candidates try to circumvent rebuttal rules by not mentioning their opponent’s name during answers. If it’s obvious they’re taking a veiled shot, then the moderator should be allowed to award a rebuttal.
Mandatory visual or audible timekeeping signals: This one falls on debate organizers. There needs to be an alarm or light that lets the audience know when a candidate has exceeded his allotted time. There have been candidates that treat these restrictions as if there optional. Let’s end that by allowing the audience to observe them ignoring the rules.
One minute and 30 second intros, one minute closes: Let’s face it. These are usually the most boring parts of the events, but they are necessary. Let’s streamline them as much as possible.
Upfront press credentialing: There should be no surprises for either the organizers or the members of the media come debate night. Answer every credentialing request by an outlet or individual and if they’re not being admitted explain in writing why. We can’t have what could be the turning point of a contest go silent.