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Three teens push for woman presidential debate moderator

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(CBS News) Three teenagers from New Jersey recently learned in one of their government classes that the last time a woman moderated a presidential debate was in 1992. So, they decided to try and change that.

The high school students from Montclair, N.J., started an online petition on in May and have gathered 117,000 signatures to lobby the Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization that hosts and sets the terms of the debates, to choose a woman moderator to host at least one of this fall's three presidential face-offs. Even though the target organization receives an email each time the petition is signed, the students are delivering a printout of the signatures to the commission's offices in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

"Women's voices need to be heard," fifteen year old Sammi Siegal told, adding that with two male presidential candidates, the importance of a woman moderator is even more important.

"The main goal is to get people to realize that this is such a big issue and that women aren't still completely equal," Siegal said Monday.

PBS' Gwen Ifill hosted the vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008 but ABC News' Carole Simpson is the last woman to host a presidential debate, moderating the 1992 debate between President George H.W. Bush and candidates Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

It's only in the past two decades that women have been absent from moderator role. Prior to 1992, men still hosted most of the debates, but women moderated presidential debates in 1988, 1984 and 1976. (The League of Woman Voters hosted the debates until the Commission on Presidential Debates took over in 1988.)

"We welcome input from anybody," Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told She added that 9 of the 21 panelists at debates have been women. The last time the debates featured panelists in addition to a moderator, however, was in 1992.

She said criteria for choosing a moderator includes three requirements: they must have followed the campaigns "in-depth," have extensive hard news television broadcasting experience and understand their role as a facilitator of discussion.

Brown also says she's unsure if she will meet with the teens Tuesday, but Siegal said they have been guaranteed a meeting with at least a staff member.

The teens have started a second petition asking President Obama and Mitt Romney to support their push for a woman moderator. They plan to hand the petitions over to the Republican and Democratic headquarters Tuesday as well.

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