It’s impossible to turn on the radio, walk into a coffee shop, or even sit down at the dinner table without hearing talk of the latest U.S. presidential debate topics.  But amidst the analysis of bird-counts and who has the largest binder full of ladies, certain issues are clearly being silenced in the election—and in U.S. political discourse altogether.

On the day of the final presidential debate, I asked staff at HRP and HIRC: if you had the chance, what question would you put to the candidates tonight?  Here’s what some of them said.

Tyler Giannini:  “When will Guantánamo be closed?”

Meera Shah: “Governor Romney, you’ve stated that you would make U.S. military and foreign aid to Egypt conditional on its respect for human rights. Do you intend to hold other recipients of U.S. aid, such as Israel, which gets $3.1 billion annually in U.S. aid, accountable to the same standards?  President Obama, how will you promote respect for human rights in countries receiving U.S. aid?”

Cara Solomon: “What is the one issue you care deeply about but do not mention on the campaign trail—and why?”

Phil Torrey: “One of the greatest powers a President has is nominating judges to serve in the federal judiciary.  Currently, there is an alarming number of vacant federal judge positions, which severely hampers individuals’ access to justice.  What is your strategy for addressing this problem, and based on what criteria would you nominate federal judges for confirmation?”

Yennifer Pedraza:  “As a recent college graduate, I’m concerned about my future.  The presidential campaigns have focused much of their attention on small businesses.  Yet, in a world where a bachelors degree is necessary to get even a basic job, my loans and interest rates are overwhelmingly high, so a small business is far from my mind and beyond my scope of opportunity.  What are you going to do to help current students and graduates who are paying off loans with interest rates ranging from seven to ten percent?  How will you help these individuals get to a place where they can envision a future without debt, as home owners, with the ability to financially support a family?”

Mindy Roseman: “What is your position on the Helms amendment, which prohibits U.S. foreign assistance to go to any organizations that work to legalize or provide services related to abortion?”

Fernando Delgado:  “Though the United States is a diverse nation, it has a political system dominated by only two parties.  Many citizens express frustration with this dearth of viable electoral choices.  What steps, if any, would you take to encourage a move away from two-party system in the United States?  For instance, would you support the modest electoral reform of instituting a two-round voting system with a multi-party first round and second round run-off between the top two candidates?  In several multi-party democracies around the world, a two- round electoral system encourages citizens to vote for candidates who actually best represent their views by eliminating the fear that a vote for an independent or small party candidate would be irrelevant to the outcome of the election or ‘wasted.’  Citizens could save their ‘strategic’ voting between the two front-runners for the second round run-off.”

Bonnie Rubrecht: “For nearly two decades, the Violence Against Women Act has protected undocumented immigrant women from abuse by American citizens.  Now its reauthorization is stalled in Congress.  If this act is allowed to expire, what protections will be provided to the women who are currently covered under it?”

And me?  I would ask something raised by one of our clinical students, Sean Hamidi, last week: “I am hearing a lot about ‘the very wealthy’ and even more about ‘the middle-class,’ but I am hearing absolutely nothing about ‘the people living in poverty.’  Why?”

Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, was the 2011-2012 Global Human Rights Fellow.  She is currently preparing to launch a new organization, the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity.