US Presidential E-Debate – Interested?

The other week E-Democracy.Org submitted a letter of inquiry (text far below) to the Knight Foundation as part of their exciting multi-million dollar 21st Century News Challenge. We proposed a pre-primary US Presidential online debate using a mix of video, audio, images, and text over two weeks in November _2007_. Yes, a full year before the election when the issues are fresh and you have lots of candidates with scarce space and time for in-depth debating on stage.

The Knight Foundation just asked us for a full formal proposal! We made the first cut out of what I think were thousands of proposals.

How does an E-Debate work?

Imagine a few major themes being debated by the candidates (asynchronous) on YouTube or popping right into your iPod over 10 days or so. Sprinkled along side major responses and (mandatory) rebuttals are quick text answers to short questions from citizens everyday. Imagine jump starting “Voter Voices” in the process with citizen-generated content “tagged” and aggregated in response to the substance of the issues being debated and not just video of who slipped on an icy sidewalk in Iowa.

In 2006, with the support of the Blandin Foundation, we hosted a highly successful Minnesota Gubernatorial E-Debate with all of these interactive elements. We kicked off the first candidate debate on YouTube with opening statements and allowed candidates to submit rebuttals via telephone recorded into MP3 podcasts. It was certainly an updated version of our e-mail-based e-debate model we created in 1994 as part of the world’s first election-oriented website.

Take a tour from:

Want to help? Share your thoughts or offers of support.

* What do you think of the idea? Should the candidates debate online?

* What elements do you think would make a compelling online debate?

* How should voters be engaged online in the debate, the election process from a non-partisan perspective?

Reply publicly via E-Democracy.Org’s blog comments:

Or privately:

Add your name and organization to a list of those endorsing this idea on our wiki:

If you are really interested in this idea, we are considering a conference call to gather input for our formal proposal next week (it is due January 23). Drop us your name and full contact information if you want details:
It is important to emphasize that this is just an idea, a proposal. While it would certainly help E-Democracy.Org raise our profile so we can better spread our central local Issues Forums model, I’d be glad to see this idea take off and morph into something even grander or be led where the resources to do it right are immediately available.

Also, for this idea to be truly of the Internet community, lots of partners and individuals would need to contribute their part. Any foundation funding would be a drop in the bucket compared with the energy it would leverage as “netizens” define and create the candidate debate of the future.

Steven Clift
Board Chair

P.S. I also want to note the important Choices of Democracy and Video Voter efforts. And, if you really want to dig inside our model see our public wiki where openly share our draft letters to candidates, the rules, etc.:

The full text of our letter of inquiry which we drafted publicly here on our wiki.

Project Title: Open – Online U.S. Presidential E-Debate
Total estimated cost of project (U.S. Dollars): $500,000
Time needed to complete proposal: 1 year(s)

What makes this idea unique?

Let´s see the presidential candidates really mix it up online.

In 2008, we can demonstrate that the Internet in elections is about more than just raising money and organizing activists for campaigns. Promoting informed voting and greater scrutiny and awareness of candidate positions are goals that can be fulfilled in part with an online presidential campaign debate.

E-Democracy.Org hosted the only statewide candidate e-debate in 2006 which built on our first e-debates in 1994.

Review the recent E-Debate:

Watch our opening statement via YouTube:

New in 2006, optional video opening statements via YouTube and audio podcast rebuttals submitted via telephone were promoted. To generate public interest and direct candidate involvement, the Presidential E- Debate will need mandatory video and audio elements along with text options.

We propose two e-debates over the course of two weeks in November 2007 – one for Republicans and another for Democrats.

From our experience, we’ve learned that people turn to the Internet when there is a scarcity of political news and information in the mass media. While an e-debate in late 2008 should follow a successful 2007 e-debate, a general election e-debate alone will not generate the deep candidate involvement required. A wide open field of candidates seeking any kind of attention is ideal for the Internet.

An early e-debate, with major debate themes (we had four in our 2006 e-debate) and many short answers to questions submitted by voters, will create reusable substance for the rest of the campaign.

Voters will be engaged to rate responses, perhaps vote for a debate winner (after reviewing X amount of the debate), and submit their own response or rebuttal via video, pictures, etc. using our Voter Voices “mash-up” concept –

Who else would want to use it, and why?

* Candidates – Voters choose which candidates to click on – candidates at this stage seek any opportunity to “click” with voters.

* Media, Key Online Partners – A partnership with media organizations and local media partners, particularly in early primary states, and strategic user-generated content networks are required to leverage promotional resources. Syndicating the e-debate content in all formats under a Creative Commons license is strategic.

* Political Bloggers – From questions and commentary to carrying e- debate headlines through “sidebar widgets,” bloggers can play an important role.

* Voters – Primary voters nationally will have access to substance. Voter questions will feed into major debate themes and selected short answer questions. We’ve held votes to determine final questions in past debates.

Why are you the best person or organization to develop this project?

E-Democracy.Org, a 501c.3 non-partisan, non-profit organization, is the e-debate expert.

A quick investment of at least $500,000 is required to produce this online event and to secure major media and other online partners early.

Our very successful 2006 e-debate received accolades from the candidates, voters, the media, bloggers, and our funder. See this post for video interviews and blog commentary:

This effort will be led by Steven Clift. Inducted as an Ashoka Fellow – – in November 2006, E-Democracy.Org´s founder and chair, received a three year stipend to expand E-Democracy.Org. Ashoka’s in-depth review process to discover and support “social entrepreneurs” is extremely thorough. He is a recognized “e- democracy” expert and public speaker – see

In 1998, as a consultant, Steven Clift was a founder of the Markle Foundation’s award-winning Web White and Blue initiative. In October 2000, Web White and Blue hosted the general election Presidential Rolling Cyber Debate. See The successful e-debate appeared on 18 of the largest websites from CNN and Yahoo to PBS and AOL through syndication.

Ralph Nader’s decision not to participate and the conservative approach taken by the Bush and Gore campaigns meant that the e-debate exchanges themselves did not generate news. The WWB debate team (Co- Chaired by Mike McCurry and Doug Bailey) opted for voluntary rebuttals (we required rebuttals on the major themes). With September 11, the Markle Foundation dropped their Internet and democratic participation activities for other priorities. This rare national e-debate knowledge however, is available through E-Democracy.Org.

Note: If you are interested in a Local E-Debate Toolkit and Training Program for use by online news and citizen media efforts, let us know. This idea could stand alone or be part of this effort – start with President and end with dog catcher.

(End Letter of Inquiry)

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