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School Elections: The Student's Campaign Strategy Guide to Winning School Elections
The Few, The Proud: Becoming a School Election Winner
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How to Win School Elections
Many reasons exist for why today's student would want to win a school election.
While studies have shown extracurricular involvement is a strong indicator of students who will achieve success in secondary learning and in future careers, winning a school election today also illustrates to college admissions officers flexibility, ambition and a well-rounded student.
Today, all those traits can equal scholarships, grants and admission to the best colleges in the country.
But, how does a student win a school election? Whereas there is no magic formula for winning elections--ultimately the voters decision picks the victor--students today could benefit from applying the same sort of get-out-the-vote (also known as GOTV) practices real world politicians and their spokespeople use on the campaign trail.
Winning School Elections like Real World Politicos
Over the last decade, I've been fortunate to have participated in three presidential campaigns, two U.S. Senate, one U.S. House and nearly a dozen electoral races as both a campaign volunteer and eventually, a journalist.
But, just a few years before my first campaign experience, I was embroiled in a campaign of my own: that of the school election.
Throughout my college career, I participated in two school elections and won using elements of professional campaigns I'd picked up through personal research in books, documentaries and watching election coverage since I was old enough to talk.
While these practices aren't foolproof, by employing them into your school election campaign, you increase your chances of winning by coming across as more experienced, more devoted and with more finesse than your average high school student.
- Creating Your Brand. The 2008 elections are perhaps the most recent example of what having a good campaign brand can do for you. Love him or hate him, President Barack Obama's campaign was the single best branded campaign in election history, his symbolic "O" featuring a rising sun over the heartland was emblazoned on hundreds of pieces of literature, bumper stickers and websites. Whereas your campaign will not need to be as detailed or professional, its probably a good idea to compose the following in your lead up to announcing your candidacy for student office:
- A Campaign Mission Statement: Why are you running? Who do you seek to represent? What do you hope to achieve by winning?
- Your Campaign Slogan: Remember, brevity is key. Think like Reagan, "Morning in America," Obama, "Yes You Can!" or Bill Clinton, "Putting People First."
- Campaign Colors/Logo: While you campaign, you will need a standard set of colors and perhaps a logo that must be incorporated in each and every campaign piece that is created. Even in hand-painted or drawn signs, keeping with the same colors, fonts, logos and general design helps not only create a stronger brand, but a unified message in the campaign helps illustrate your professionalism.
- Building Your Base. Before you even begin to campaign, having a core base of friends and students you are comfortable addressing is important. Make a list of those you know will be in your corner no matter what. Then, branch out and list the different organizations or groups each of these people might be able to persuade as a surrogate spokesperson for your campaign. If you believe you can pull more than 51 percent of the vote, then you have your base built. If not, gather those you do have and let them know of your intention of running and ask for their help in spreading the word.
- Filing the Paperwork. Your opportunity to even win a school election won't happen unless you meet the qualifications for office. Be certain your grades and other qualifiers are in line, get the paperwork filled out and filed on the FIRST possible day so you will have more time to build momentum while other students weigh their chances and wait until the last minute to file.
- Securing Free Media. In any campaign, the power of the press can persuade and help draw voters; first, if your school has a campus newspaper, radio station or tv station, inquire about getting covered in the campus media. Then, branch out--and think big. In 1999, as I prepared to run for the student council in Houston, Texas, I came up with the elaborate plan of getting Houston-area radio stations--stations in one of the largest media markets in the country--to get me on the air. Contact every single radio morning show in the area, including the Spanish language stations, by sending out a letter directly to the DJs asking for ideas for your election. One cool, crisp fall morning, one week after sending the emails out, I discovered something very cool: two popular radio morning shows read my email and had callers call in over the course of the morning. Not only was I, a simple high school student, receiving more 10 or 15 minutes of on air radio time I didn't even pay a cent for, a majority of my constitutents--the students--heard my name on the radio on the school bus and stopped me to say hello. If you live in a smaller town, chances are good you could probably get even more time than I did in Houston!
- Talk Up the Election. If you are shy in front of an audience, you have to get over it. Now. School election winners can not only walk the walk, but talk the talk. And talk you must. Chat with every student who will give you even 10 seconds of your time. Ask for their vote. Be forward. "Hi, so and so, I'd like your vote on Tuesday for the student council election. Would you be willing to vote for me at lunch Tuesday?" Simple. The worst case scenario: They say no. Who cares. Law of averages says the more people you ask, the higher number you will get when they count ballots. Try it. It works.
- The Great Stump Speech. Remember what I said about talking just now? Chances are, at some point in this campaign, you will address an audience full of students--or just those like us who care about student leadership--and will have the opportunity to close any gaps in your constituents who have not made up their mind or even thought about who to vote for. Be sincere, spell out the key points of your mission statement, but be brief! A good general framework for your speech is what I call a "before, today, tomorrow" speech: Outline how the organization you are running for was before, how it is today and how electing you will affect tomorrow. For example, the high school drama department from which I won my second election to become public relations director had a history of poor PR in the past. As a result, in 2000, the department had less-than-packed auditoriums each performance and therefore, was drawing less profit each production than it could. But, I argued, by electing someone with advanced experience in press release writing and understanding how to pitch a story to the news from self study, I was poised to help bring larger audiences to school plays. Needless to say, I won. Another great option, if the opportunity affords itself, is to let the competition go first. You can generally measure an effective speech in the first few seconds. If they seemed to stumble, then you have the advantage of going up, prepared and eager to blow them away.
- Deliver on Your Promises. Congratulations! You won your school election! Don't forget those who elected you and work hard to always meet your campaign promises. If another obstacle is in the way of making your mission possible, address the issue and vow to take it up as something you would like to change in order to achieve the original goal. By being sincere, honest and dedicated to your student office, you will not only effect change at school, but help bolster opportunities for recommendations for college in the future.
While many will maintain school elections are all about popularity, the truth is only a small percentage of people fall in with the "popular" crowd at school. High school students, as you will realize one day many years from now, all suffer from the same social anxiety and awkward moments. Yes, all of them.
High schools, today, are like small cities. They each have their own social structures, rules, but also offer a variety of opinions and personalities. Work hard to appeal to them all while being true to yourself and to what you want to accomplish; while some people might not take your ambition seriously, chances are your dedication will not go unnoticed.
Pound the pavement, organize efficiently, talk to as many people as you can and never give up! Best wishes in winning your school elections!