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Student government, much like homecoming/prom royalty, is nothing more than a school-sponsored popularity contest. Most high school students realize that their student government is that in name only, having no real authority. No matter who they vote into these artificial positions, it will still be the teachers and faculty that run the school.

So, the kids do what they would have done anyway, and vote for their friends. Naturally, the "popular people" win, having more friends who vote for them.

Why do schools do this? By helping to emphasize who is popular, they are only doing harm to the less popular people.

As a former member of Student Government, I can say this. I was never very popular, and most of the Student Council at my school was comprised of the "smart kids" at school. We never did anything of major import. We decided on what shape the year's parking sticker would be, and sold parking spaces to the students. I didn't even get bribed for a better spot!

The only thing even remotely useful that we did was to regularly meet with the school superintendent, albeit in a solely advisory capacity. We made no decisions to affect the school. We didn't advise the school board. Our suggestions were routinely ignored by the administration.

Student Government is supposed to give students a microcosm of elections and parliamentary procedures. Ostensibly, we learned to work to build consensus. Since we didn't have any actual power, what we largely did was agree with anything anybody suggested. That and raise funds for an annual trip to the Student Council Convention in Chicago.

...OR IS IT?

Student governments and their relations with the administration and the students differ. Some may be more democratic, and others may not. There will be some student governments that are almost exactly like a democracy.


Democracy is a form of government. One other extremely publicized form of government is communism. (QXZ points out that communism is a type of economy that is compatible with democracy) Democracy is "free and equal representation of people" or a country in which the government officials have been elected by all the citizens.1 If we want to apply the term democracy to student government, the citizens would be the students and staff, and the representatives would be the elected officers. In most cases, there would also be an elected president, vice president, and treasurer. The administration would be a separate part of the government, something like the Executive branch, or perhaps a second House of Representatives.


In a democracy, all the citizens are represented equally. As stated above, the staff, who make up the administration, are citizens, too. Therefore, they deserve to be represented. If their opinions were to be cast aside, the student government would be more like a dictatorship, ruled by the students. However, since the staff are the adults and the students are the kids, this is a very unlikely possibility. The administration represents the staff. Given, the administration may have more power and control than the elected student government officers, but this is not an intrinsic quality of student government; adults tend to take control away from children in almost any situation.


Since student governments and their relations with the administration differ, elected student officers in different schools may be more oppressed by the administration than others. The officers of one school may have more ability than the officers of another school. At a certain school, it is called the Associated Student Body, or the ASB for short. The ASB at this school has a relatively nice amount of control. They may call an assembly whenever they think they need one. Whenever the officers want to have a meeting between themselves, they are rarely denied the privilege. But then there is another school in the same district. At that school, the ASB has barely any rights. The ASB of that school is more like a set of expectations by the administration, not a real democracy. The ASB officers of the first school listen to the students, listen to the administration, add in some of their own opinions, and make educated decisions while representing others' opinions. That is a democracy.


Another issue that greatly affects whether or not a certain student government is a democracy is the elected officers of that student government. At a certain school, the following offices, listed in no particular order, are open:

  • Representatives
    • 7th Grade Rep.
    • 8th Grade Rep.
    • 9th Grade Rep.
  • Co-Vice Presidents
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  • Co-Presidents
Each individual in each grade can vote for one person for each of the offices, with a few exceptions. There can be two votes for the co-presidents, and two for the co-vice presidents. In addition, the individuals of each grade can only vote for a representative of their own grade. At this school, the 7th graders, being new to the system, usually do not make a wise vote. Many agree that the election of the representative of the 7th grade was a gender-driven vote. Others observed that this representative was usually unavailable for conversation. Yet others noticed that this representative routinely missed meetings of the elected officers.

Basically, the representative was not able to effectively represent the citizens. This means that the 8th and 9th grade students were better represented than 7th grade students. Not all the citizens were equally represented. The words "all" and "equal" are key terms when it comes to democracy. Since the citizens were not all equally represented, the very definition of democracy was violated, and the student government was not a democracy. Now let's look at another student government that worked within the same set of rules and with the same offices. In this other student government, all the representatives are effectively representing the citizens. While it is true that no student government can be a perfect democracy, this one is a lot closer than the previous one.


Student governments differ greatly, so a generalization cannot be applied to all. Yet, it is true that no student government can be a perfect democracy in our current society. There are many issues that affect whether a certain student government is a democracy. These include the competence and involvement of the officers, and the attitude of the administration. Some student governments aren't democratic, but some come pretty darn close.

1 Encarta World English Dictionary

In Feburary of 2002, an University of Illinois student named Shachar Meron decided to run for Illinois Student Government President.  Then all hell broke loose.

Meron is a cartoonist for the Daily Illini, the school newspaper, wherein he writes a cartoon entitled Blue Rice.  For the past few years, leading up to student elections, he has regularly poked fun at the Illinois Student Government for being generally useless--a sentiment agreed with by a sizable portion of the student body, if not an outright majority.  He has gone so far to have some of his cartoon characters satiracally announce their candidacy for ISG office within his column.

This year, one of Meron's friends suggested that he have one of them run for real.  Shachar looked into it and was surprised to find that the only requirement to appear on the ballot is to collect 40 signatures on a petition and turn it in before a designated date.  Furthermore, candidates are permitted to have the name appearing on the ballot differ from their legal name.  Meron dutifully collected the signatures and submitted his petition for presidency to the election committee--with the name of "Gordon the Gnome," one of the Blue Rice characters, as the name to appear on the ballot.  One of Meron's friends, Brian DePriest, likewise submitted a petition for vice presidency under the name of "Hale the Snail."

The "real" candidates were livid.  The Progress slate, one of the two big parties running in the election, protested immediately and filed just about every complaint known to man to try to get Meron and DePriest removed from the ballot.  The Genesis slate, to their credit, did not protest publicly.  The Student Election Committee denied all of Progress' motions.  The next day, Shachar wrote a column in the Daily Illini detailing his struggles to get on the ballot.  He also continuously had the two characters, Gordon and Hale, "campaign" in Blue Rice.  Their main slogan was, simply, "C'mon.  How much would it rule if we actually won?"

The election occurred on March 5th and March 6th through an online ballot.  Meron and DePriest did indeed appear on the form.  The names listed were "Gordon the Gnome Meron" and "Hale the Snail DePriest," ostensibly to provide some link to their real names.

Every single person I know who was not directly connected to either of the two big slates voted for them.  Student participation in these elections, normally anemic, was way over norm with people coming out of the woodwork to voice their displeasure over the past powerlessness of ISG by voting for a gnome and a snail.  Elections ended without fanfare at the end of the day on March 6th, and the general feeling throughout campus is that Meron had just about done the impossible--and done it in a landslide.

At 7 PM on March 7th, the Student Election Commission met to discuss the notion that Meron and DePriest broke at least two election guidelines.  They charged that Meron spent more money campaigning than the guidelines allowed for an independent candidate ($300).  The item of contention was the Blue Rice column, which Meron had assessed at $7.05 a column inch (the value his competitors paid for similar space) while the SEC instead put the fair market value at $10.80 an inch--putting Meron over the limit after the fact.  Shachar tried to argue that he and DePriest had shared the space and so shared funds, but the panel ruled that because Meron and DePriest did not form an official slate, their funds could not be combined.

The SEC then disqualified both Meron and DePriest from the election after the fact, despite the fact that this grievance could have easily been addressed before the election and was not. 

After the panel recessed, Genesis' Sara Bokhari was announced as the winner for ISG president with Progress' Chris Dillion winning the position of vice president.  Meron announced that he would not file a complaint, even though he had to right to do so until noon of the day after the results were announced.

On March 8th, the actual election tallies were revealed.  These were the "official" tallies for the presidential election:

2,032--Sara Bokhari, Genesis
1,994--Stephanie Halvorson, Progress
142--Charles Clark
461--Write-in votes
= 4,629 votes cast for ISG president.

Meron's actual votes are not shown--because the SEC refused to release them--but a telling picture can be drawn regardless: 7,705 students voted in the ISG elections, but only 4,629 undisqualified votes for president were cast.  That  leaves 3,706 students who did one of two things:

A) Took the time to vote in the election but failed to vote for the highest position on the ballot.
B) Voted for Gordon the Gnome.

Even if only two-thirds of the "unaccounted for" students voted for Meron (a VERY conservative estimate, considering in the previous year 88% of those who voted in the election did so in the presidential race), it still would've been enough for him to win the election--and then some.  A similar picture is painted by the vice presidential results.


"I'm guessing Gordon the Gnome and Hale the Snail received a plurality of the vote otherwise this wouldn't be happening."
--Shachar Meron

"Honestly, they should have kept (Meron's) ballots, they should have made the rules clearer."
--Marcia Fuentes, Genesis' candidate for ISG treasurer

"It's not fair...it pretty much discourages independents from running."
--Matt Dalsanto, independent candidate for student trustee

"This is geared towards slates."
--Joel Baise, SEC chairman

  "Roughly about one out of five students voted.  About 85 percent of students didn't even care about voting.  And then, out of those who did vote, a plurality voted for the cartoon characters who were mocking the system.  Out of what was left, the majority voted for the president who said she would make big changes in ISG."
--Shachar Meron

"Some (votes) were probably for Shachar."
--Joel Baise, SEC chairman

"At this point, I know it is impossible for an independent candidate to win.  I won by votes, but I got kicked out.  (The SEC) can interpret it any way they want, and they can still kick me out."
--Sachar Meron

"Talk about a disgrace. The SEC shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence as democracy. We shudder to think these students are our future politicians."
--Daily Illini editorial column, Friday, March 8th, 2002

"You see, my column and comic strips are considered advertising space for the purpose of this election, so even though I paid nothing for them (and actually got paid for presenting them, as I am an employed cartoonist and columnist), the pretend amount of money that I spent on a non-existent advertisement exceeded my budget limitations, as determined by the subjective interpretation of a vague law."
--Shachar Meron




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