Rumors of point manipulation and bias frequently circulate regarding any election whether it is at the federal, state or local level. Bear Creek’s Associated Student Body elections are no exception.
Posters, stickers, candies and even t-shirts with catchy slogans and portrait pictures printed across them to promote candidates often come to mind with the subject of high school student government elections. Although the superficial voting aspect of campaigning is the most prominent, votes are not the sole factor in deciding student representatives.
The three components of the ASB election process are the applications, interviews and student voting. In addition to answering why the students seek the position and believe they are qualified, candidates must list their activity involvement on the application. Potential ASB officers must also include a copy of their transcript and two letters of recommendation in addition to requesting two teachers to submit skill evaluations as candidates for class president or assembly member do.
Student government advisor Michael Heberle said that ASB interviews are conducted by the current nine members of the ASB, plus the advisor. Because English teacher Laura La Rue will be the advisor next year, there may be 11 on the panel for the upcoming elections. The panel asks every candidate the same questions to ensure consistency and fairness.
“With any process that is done by humans, there is always the possibility of a bias,” Heberle said. “The idea with 10 people is that if someone does have a bias, they will be overruled by the majority. We really do our best to keep the interviews as balanced as possible.”
Candidates are judged on a handful of categories and are ranked on a scale of one to four in each category. Sometimes the panel will discuss a candidate’s prospects, but once the sheets are collected, the points are totaled for the interview score.
One common concern is that the odds are tilted in the favor of incumbent student government members. ASB Vice President Brandon Miramontes, who is the officer in charge of elections, said that the students that are already in student government do have a bit of an advantage.
“They get a 10 point boost for having experience in the class because comparing someone who has been in the class with someone who hasn’t, they know how the class works and what’s going on and don’t have to take time to learn how to do stuff,” Miramontes said. “But a lot of the time for ASB, the kids that are applying are new because they haven’t had room in their schedule to take the class before.”
Students in the class that are running are not allowed to be near the election materials, however. Elections are also primarily run by seniors, which Heberle said helps reduce the probability of someone having an investment in a friend.
Ballot counting is treated the same way as any other voting procedure student government handles: through a double blind. Two separate groups count one group, swap ballots, and the information matches or is recounted. Senior class president Isabelle Rodriguez said that in addition, an advisor is always present during the counting, students do not count for their own class, and the ballots are always kept to show those with concerns of fraudulent voting.
Rodriguez said she did struggle with the perceived popularity contest aspect of voting, but she thinks it is important to show other students that being popular is not a requirement for being in student government or being a leader.
“I’ve done it [student government as class president] for four years and I’ve faced a lot of criticism because of it but I think that’s part of being a leader: facing criticism and learning how to face criticism,” Rodriguez said. “I think I’m living proof that you don’t have to be popular to be in student government; all you have to do is have a desire to pursue leadership.”
Furthermore, point standings are calculated as each component is completed. Heberle said that ASB shares the point distribution scores with the candidates upon request after elections; anyone can see the vote scores but not the application and interview points. It is student government’s policy not to share points until then so that intermediate stage results do not skew how people vote.
Perhaps there is some room for improvement, however. Rodriguez said that the process is balanced particularly for ASB because they have the interview component in addition to application and voting. She said a short interview where potential class officers can get better acquainted with student government could be implemented in the future.
“I think that it would be beneficial for everybody to have an interview because then you could kind of get the feel of who is coming into the class and how responsible they are,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes people come into the class and don’t understand the whole responsibility that they’re undertaking and are kind of overwhelmed. I’d love for us to be able to interview everyone but I also know that it takes so much time and effort to run the interviews just for ASB because so many people apply.”
Ultimately, Heberle said corrupt student government elections are just a rumor that starts as any other does.
“Usually it has no basis or starts with someone who’s upset about something or wants to justify why they didn’t make it instead of admitting ‘okay, yeah, I lost that one,’” Heberle said. “They look to another source for blame because it helps them feel better, and then from there it spreads. And that’s just human nature.”