Anonymous Candidates: Preventing the Student Council Popularity Contest

%22Ballot+box%22+by+FutUndBeidl+is+licensed+under+CC+BY+2.0

“Ballot box” by FutUndBeidl is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Elisha V

The WESS High School Student Council elections are just around the corner. While we would usually all shuffle into the Black Box, anticipating the series of two minute speeches by the candidates, this year inevitably looks different. Student campaign posters plastered around the school building have been replaced by yet another Zoom. Despite the logistical changes, one thing is certain to remain the same: the popularity contest aspect.

As with any decision we make, our biases can get the best of us. We want the best for our friends and would feel guilty or disloyal not voting for them. We also want to believe our friends are smart and qualified, so we tell ourselves they deserve to be elected even if other candidates compare better. Even if we try to make a determined effort to vote objectively, our unconscious biases can still sway us to favor our friends and people similar to ourselves. High School friend groups can, in a sense, be compared to political parties, each wanting their candidate  – their friend – to win. 

With speeches being on Zoom this year, and without teachers able to strictly monitor whether students are on their phones, sleeping, or logged into the Zoom at all, students will likely pay less attention than if we were in-person. Consequentially, students will likely vote for their friends even more so than in previous years, because they won’t be paying close enough attention to the other speeches. If the popularity factor is more present in this year’s election than ever before, how do we ensure that Student Council is comprised of students who deserve to be there, rather than students who simply have the most friends? The answer may be election reforms.

Many employers use “blind recruitment,” a hiring practice where all identification factors – name, race, age, gender – are removed so that the candidate’s resume can be objectively analyzed while sparing hiring discrimination. This could also be applied to student council elections, albeit severely shaking up the existing system. A “blind election” could be where students are provided with all the candidates’ speeches – all anonymous – and are tasked with reading through the speeches themselves, rather than listen to the candidates delivering the speeches. This would mean students would really have to pay attention to any given candidate’s platform, goals, and qualifications because the written rhetoric would be the only way to get a sense of the candidate.

Many students would probably detest the idea of having to read a set of ~20 speeches rather than sit back and absorb the candidates’ words aloud. Students may become apathetic towards voting in the election because the task of sifting through the speeches and deciphering the differences between the anonymous candidates may be too much amidst hectic school and personal lives. Corruption would likely come in the form of candidates tipping off their friends with which speech is theirs so that they can get the votes. 

While anonymous speeches would ensure that a candidate doesn’t lose out simply because students have negative preconceived assumptions and perceptions, it would be quite intangible to get a sense of whether the speech reflects the candidate’s true abilities and suitability for the responsibilities of Student Council. Through just the words on the page, a candidate gets to present themselves afresh – but this also leaves the door wide open for candidates to have others help write their speech so as to present themselves in the best light. While public speaking is not a vital requisite for Student Council, having persuasive and engaging interpersonal skills (being an effective communicator) is an important skill when working closely with the council, student body, and school administration. 

The “blind” candidate process may bode well for employment practices, but Student Council elections are a distinctly different thing. In an ideal world, students would objectively vote based on the candidate’s words, without friendships, biases, and other factors swaying opinions. There are significant shortcomings to this theoretical Student Council election system, and the prospects of it actually being implemented seem meagre, just like with election reform on the national level. The popularity factor will still remain a cornerstone of student council elections across all High Schools, With all that being said, I encourage you to meaningfully engage in the speeches this year, despite the unfavorable circumstances, and actively vote for who really deserves to be elected.