The every-four-years ritual of a national “town hall” style debate began as a nerve-racking experiment in live television. Moderator Carole Simpson was so nervous about turning over the microphone to regular folks and their questions that she spent days mapping out the presidential candidates and their issues on “a zillion 3-by-5 cards,” in case she had to take over the questioning herself.

“I was afraid these undecided voters from Richmond, Va., might get into this huge TV studio where they’d be seen by millions of people and they’d just freeze,” the former ABC journalist recalls. “I wanted to be prepared.”

No need to worry. The voters did fine. That “town hall” 20 years ago was such a hit that there’s been one in every presidential election since.

The sixth will bring President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney to Hofstra University on New York’s Long Island Tuesday night to take questions from undecided voters selected by the Gallup polling company.

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