Something funny about school elections

Posters and popularity don't hold a dimpled chad to sincerity and humor

Posters and popularity don't hold a dimpled chad to sincerity and humor

October 07, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Be real. That's the best advice for winning a school election.

It worked for Adam Hockensmith, who won his run for president of the Student Government Association at South Hagerstown High School this year. Adam narrowly beat fellow senior Trang Phan for the position - and he did it by being sincere, upbeat, funny and confident, he says.

"I just tried to be myself, to be positive, and not to have a fake niceness about me," says Adam, 16, of Hagerstown.

Trang - who lost by only seven votes - wishes she'd been a little more confident when giving her campaign speech, but she feels good about the way she focused on such important issues as school spirit and constitutional revision. Her tips for doing well in school elections include "showing everyone who you are as a person, telling them the issues that you have, and being strong behind your issues," says Trang, 17, of Hagerstown.


"Don't put anything in your speech that you can't deliver," says Keli Dofflemyer, 15, of Hagerstown. The South High junior landed the position of SGA recording secretary in this year's election. Her opponent, senior Kelly Floyd, says Keli's outgoing personality and involvement in a lot of social activities at the school helped her campaign. It's important to get to know different groups of people and to remember you're talking to teens, says Kelly, 17, of Hagerstown.

"Try to stay on the level of high school students," she says. "Don't overdo issues."

South High senior Daniel Lynn, 17, didn't have that problem. He says he didn't focus on any issues when he ran against Emily Keller for senior class president. Instead, Daniel - who plays football, basketball and baseball at South High - talked about himself during his campaign speech.

"And I just went around telling people to vote for me," he says.

Emily figures she won for two reasons: she did a good job as junior class president, and she talks to people outside her own social circle, she says.

"A lot of people who think they're popular are only popular within their clique," says Emily, 17, of Hagerstown. "Talk to everyone. Don't just talk to one clique of people."

Jeff Marx looked for that kind of advice in the late 1980s when he was running for student council vice president in high school - but he couldn't find it in writing anywhere, he says. That's why Marx - now loving life in Manhattan after the recent Broadway opening of "Avenue Q," a musical he co-wrote - eventually decided to write a book filled with tips for winning high school elections, he says.

Marx gathered ideas from more than 10,000 high school students who won elections and advice from those who lost for his book, "How To Win A High School Election," which was published in 1999 and is now available online at

"People should understand that their chances of winning are far better than they realize," Marx says.

It's important to know that you don't have to be popular to win, he says. Many of the students he polled told him that the most popular candidates aren't necessarily the most liked candidates.

"The majority of the school is not 'popular' and a lot of those 'popular' kids are snotty and unfriendly, and a lot of the typical kids in the class don't really want to support them," Marx says. "When they're alone in the voting booth, a lot of them will vote for anyone with the guts to run against those 'popular' people who feel entitled to win just because of their looks, their money, their clique or whatever."

Student voters really want officers who are "real," are running for the right reasons and want to help make the school a better place - but aren't too serious or long-winded about the issues, he says.

It's easy to get caught up in making posters and giving long, boring speeches, but that isn't going to win the election, Marx says.

"What really counts is asking people to go to the bother of going to the voting booth in the first place and trying to get their vote," he says.

If you really want to win, Marx says, try:

  • putting up a few clear, funny posters.

  • doing something original, like giving out pencils or candy.

  • talking to everyone and asking them to vote.

  • having fun with the campaign speech. Keep it short, funny and to the point - focusing on one or two real issues, but never boring.

"What wins student elections is a funny speech. Time and time and time again," Marx says. "A student government position may be a serious thing, but to get there, you've got to win over the voters."

Top 10 ways to win a high school election

10. Don't give up by not trying. Push yourself to go for it.

9. Don't overdo it with the posters; they're not what people base their votes on. Keep the publicity cute and simple, and focus instead on being the most genuine, approachable, easy-going candidate. Be a "people person."

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