Bolinas principal tries new election model

11/21/2013

While the elections in West Marin this November might have passed without much change, a student council election at the Bolinas-Stinson school last week took a creative approach to deciding who would represent the student body. 

No names appeared on the ballot; instead, students voted for the platform they liked best. 

The idea came up at a staff discussion about how to avoid the perennial problem of elections devolving into popularity contests. Principal Elaine Doss wanted to focus on the issues and how the elected representative would perform in their position. Eight candidates went to the computer lab to write two-sentence statements, but they all decided to write by hand instead. “They really took it seriously,” Ms. Doss thought as she watched them. 

Nearly 40 students who voted ranked their top four choices. Some kids asked Ms. Doss why they couldn’t know whom they were voting for. 

“We’re trying something new,” she responded. “It’s really more important to vote for a platform and to learn to vote that way later in life. You really want to know what a person stands for, not how friendly or cool they are.” 

The top vote-getter won on these ideas: “If I were on the Student Council I would like to make it so middle schoolers are allowed on the playground and have separate lunch tables, and everyone would have more Spirit Days, a better lunch program and a less strict dress code.” 

Other candidates suggested a school shop on Fridays (she won vice president), bringing pigs on campus to reduce food waste, powering the school with solar panels, “a happy, easy school day,” and more field trips (from a sixth-grader who won treasurer). 

The candidate with the highest rankings became president; second, vice president; third, secretary; and fourth, treasurer. 

Before the election, one seventh-grade girl asked Ms. Doss what would happen if she won the election, but didn’t want to be president. “If you’re the first-place winner, you get to choose,” Ms. Doss reassured her. She did win the election and changed her mind, deciding to lead the student body. 

But another issue arose: after calculating the rankings, two students tied for second. The tiebreaker was decided on who had more votes, with the vice president by two votes. 

Ms. Doss said the election this year was one of the first without the usual disappointment that accompanies losing. “I didn’t get rejected, my statement did,” Ms. Doss explained. 

For electoral hopefuls planning for next year, longer statements seemed to get more votes: two of the longest, at 75 and 96 words, claimed the top two spots.