In most major American debates, the candidates get a fixed amount of time to make their points. In theory, when the clock runs out they're finished. In practice, however, it's possible for a candidate to talk over everybody.

Why don't they just shut off the microphone when it's not someone's turn to speak?

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    @Rathony - I asked a Meta question about this. That may be a better forum to iron this out. meta.politics.stackexchange.com/questions/2740/… – indigochild Sep 27 '16 at 17:17
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    Obsolete comments removed. If you would like to continue discussing the topicality of the question, please do so in the related Meta discussion. – yannis Sep 27 '16 at 17:22
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    btw, in Greece, they do sometimes turn off the microphones when the time passes (and the candidate ignores the moderator's warning). It's not a bad system. – yannis Sep 27 '16 at 17:25

The role of the moderator in a debate is to ensure that the debate flows smoothly and that it is conducted in a decent manner. Some of this role requires intervention (for example, a warning to stop speaking over an opponent wouldn't go amiss), but too much would interrupt the flow of the debate.

It's pretty similar in nature to refereeing/umpiring in some sports; often a referee will let some more minor infractions slide in order to allow the game to move more freely (especially thinking soccer here).

In respect to the suggestion of shutting off microphones, it's quite important that sometimes a candidate is allowed to make an immediate response, especially in the case of falsehoods.

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    What do you mean by "a warning to stop speaking over an opponent wouldn't go amiss"? – Rathony Sep 27 '16 at 14:57
  • If a candidate is speaking over an opponent repeatedly, I would suggest a verbal warning from the moderator to not do that to be reasonable and not too disruptive. – mfcrocker Sep 27 '16 at 15:33

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