During the 2008 presidential campaign, a coalition of progressives, conservatives, and Silicon Valley leaders launched the Open Debate Coalition to make debates more representative of the will of the people. In the Open Debate format, regular voters across the nation submit and vote on questions on an online platform for several weeks in advance of the televised event. For the live debate, moderators choose from among the questions that received the most votes – asking follow-up questions along the way.
The original coalition included Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Craig Newmark (craigslist), the National Organization for Women, the Sierra Club, Adam Green and Stephanie Taylor (Progressive Change Campaign Committee), Grover Norquist (Americans for Tax Reform), DailyKos, RedState, MoveOn, Newt Gingrich (American Solutions), Arianna Huffington, Aaron Swartz (Reddit), former digital directors for the Republican National Committee and George W. Bush, and leaders from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ColorOfChange.org, and many others.
The coalition saw amazing success. Our initial request was that networks put presidential debate video in the public domain or Creative Commons to allow debate moments to have a life online without legal peril. Within weeks, CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS agreed. The coalition then announced bottom-up Open Debate principles to make questions represent what the public cared about, and the Obama and McCain campaigns both endorsed them.
In August 2013, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee sponsored the first-ever Open Debate in a Massachusetts special election for Congress. Over 1,600 questions were submitted, over 79,000 votes were cast, and all 5 candidates participated and loved it. Instead of questions about the horserace and the gaffe of the week, the top questions were all substantive, and many were on issues that the media rarely ask about.
The coalition expanded its membership in advance of the 2016 elections, adding tech luminaries like Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly media) and Chris Kelly (former Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook), as well as numerous issue-based groups like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Faith & Freedom Coalition, CWA, FreedomWorks, Social Security Works, and the US Student Association – and artist Shepard Fairey, who designed the iconic Obama "Hope" poster, joined the coalition and designed our logo.
In April 2016, Americans for Tax Reform partnered with the Open Debate Coalition on a televised, bi-partisan debate for U.S. Senate in Florida in which the public cast over 400,000 votes to select the top questions.
Later that year, Presidential debate moderators — ABC’s Martha Raddatz and FOX’s Chris Wallace — cited the 'bipartisan Open Debate Coalition's online forum where Americans submitted questions that generated millions of votes' as a source of questions in both the October 9 and October 19 presidential debates. Over 66 million people were watching.
On October 26-27, 2016, the Open Debate Coalition partnered with NH1 to produce the first ever double-header Open Debates -- back to back general election debates for Governor and U.S. Senate.
In October of 2017, the Open Debate Coalition piloted the first ever municipal Open Debate in New York City, partnering with NY1 News, Politico, WNYC, Citizens Union, Intelligence Squared, the Latino Leadership Institute, and Civic Hall on a series of 3 debates for Mayor, Comptroller, and Public Advocate. 50% of all questions for the debates came from the coalition’s online platform, which generated tens of thousands of votes from New York City residents.