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A Student Government Election Made for TV-The Sequel

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Message Stuart Nachbar

This day, May 6, 2008, I spot a front page headline in my local New Jersey paper, The Trenton Times that reads: Ewing H.S vote is void a second time. I had previously commented on my hometown high school's senior class elections in a prior post, so I read on.

Seven students, one black and Hispanic, five black and one white, were barred from running in their senior class elections on April 23. The reason given was that the students had missed too many meetings for school activities and had not sufficiently participated in school fundraisers. In a previous post, I commented that such requirements were unreasonable for a student election; we do not require adults to show prior experience in politics to run for public office.

I added that a school should have the right to deny students a right to vote if there are serious blots on their records: academic probation, repeat suspensions and criminal activity being examples. But neither faculty nor administrators in Ewing stated that any of the candidates who were denied the right to run was in any academic or behavioral difficulty.

I stepped back after writing that post and asked myself: was it possible that some of those students were in some difficulty, but the faculty and administrators said nothing, in order to protect the privacy of the students? It would have been inappropriate, not to mention embarrassing to the students' families to mention academic or behavioral difficulties to the media. However, if this had been the case, then a responsible teacher or principal would have sent a personal letter to the student and their parents. But, based on reading the Times coverage, I have to believe the students were good standing or that the school didn't bother to inform them that they were not. All we have from the school system is a string of "no comments."

At the end of last week, Ewing High School's principal and faculty advisors declared their senior class election a mulligan.

They called for a do-over; a new election where candidates who were denied an opportunity to run the first time were allowed to run for office, although they had little time to campaign. Those placed on the ballot for the first time might have achieved some recognition from the local news coverage that would have helped, but I do not know enough to say that students who could vote in this school election read the paper.

Then today's Times reports that the do-over was botched; the vote was disallowed after the principal and the faculty advisors realized that approximately 60 students were not eligible to vote because they owed fines. I'd guess these were fines for overdue books, failure to return school property, or to pay for damages to school property. I can not imagine other reasons for a high school to fine students.

But if this was a serious concern, why didn't the principal and faculty advisors stop these students from voting in the first election? If they were serious about assessing fines, they should have been equally serious about collecting them. It's not an unusual practice for a school to hold your diploma until you pay back unpaid fines and parking tickets, though I've never heard of a case where students in arrears were denied a right to vote in a student government election. I must add that had no one protested the first election, the votes of voters with outstanding fines would have counted.

I apologize, readers, if you believe that I might be beating this story to death, but it's too amusing to ignore. This is the first time, I'm aware of an election where people who owed fines were not eligible to vote. As adults we have the opportunity to vote in all sorts of elections: local, state and presidential, and we retain the right to vote if we owe back taxes, parking tickets, and of course, library fines.

Now there will be a third senior class election this week. I wonder if that should be put on hold a little longer to allow the principal and faculty advisors time to consider the meaning of free elections before setting the rules for a new contest.

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Stuart Nachbar has been involved with education politics and econmic development for two decades. His debut novel, The Sex Ed Chronicles, a historical fiction story about sex education and politics in 1980 New Jersey, was published Fall 2007.
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