OK, imagine this:

It’s election season at Dudley High. Students are gearing up to vote for their next student body president.

There are only two candidates, and at the outset, it doesn’t seem like much of a contest.

The Candidates

Becky Swanson

      • straight-A student 
      • captain of the soccer AND debate teams
      • voted “most likely to succeed in life” by classmates
      • dating the quarter-back of the football team 
      • bold vision for monthly student events and construction of an on-campus cafe

Larry Guffman

      • solid c-minus GPA
      • avid participant in video gaming club
      • virtually unknown/ignored by other classmates
      • campaigning on a single platform: a promise to advocate for the installation of video game consoles in the cafeteria and bathroom stalls

The election initially seems like a formality. Swanson is very popular and widely respected. Meanwhile, the majority of students don’t even know who Guffman is. Of those who do, most find it pretty random and laughable that’s he’s even running. But Guffman is smarter than he looks. And he’s got a small -(3 other dorky  guys, to be exact) but devoted crew of equally unpopular gaming enthusiasts who are hellbent on getting him elected. Guffman and his crew have scoured the school’s election bylaws and identified a crucial loophole. The rules on campaign spending and etiquette are pretty straightforward. As stated:

      • Each candidate can raise and spend a maximum of $50 for campaign materials
      • Regardless of First Amendment freedoms that may apply to students off campus, candidates are forbidden from producing attack ads and other forms of negative campaigning on school grounds.

Pretty straightforward, right?

But Guffman’s crew is more interested in what the rules DON’T mention.

Nowhere in the bylaws are there any restrictions placed on people NOT affiliated with the candidates from participating in any kind of campaign fundraising or messaging.

And so this is how it goes down:

One week before the election Guffman officially resigns from the gaming club. He temporarily cuts any contact with the three remaining members. The three, in turn, form what they call the “Students for Campus Digital Freedom” club. Each member chips in 100 bucks.  With their combined $300, they create and print a series of very well-produced attack posters aimed squarely at Becky Swanson.

Three days before the election, the posters are placed throughout the school. Some cover up the overtly positive fliers that Becky placed the week before (paid for with the $40 she raised from a bakesale).

One poster accuses Swanson of “suspiciously friendly” behavior with the English teacher. Another ad questions whether her high SAT scores were “legitimately” earned.

At the bottom of each ad it simply says: “Vote Guffman – Sponsored by Students for Campus Digital Freedom”

Upon seeing the ads, Swanson runs to the principal’s office. She bursts in outraged to alert him of the smear campaign at hand. “Those things just aren’t true,” she insists.

The principal summons Guffman to his office and accuses him of violating the rules – by spending more than $50 on ads and participating in extremely negative campaigning, both of which are explicitly forbidden. But Guffman pleads ignorance.  He claims to have nothing to do with the posters or the group that is placing them. He says he’s only spent 20 bucks of his own funds to print a few modest “Vote Larry – Play Video Games” fliers.

The principal is dubious, but after looking through the bylaws, realizes that there is nothing that explicitly forbids a third party from circulating ads that support one candidate or denounce another. Befuddled, he reluctantly sends Larry back to class.

By Election Day, the damage is done. Public opinion has shifted drastically, and even Becky’s circle of friends are beginning to think twice about her capacity to lead.  Most students still don’t know anything about Larry. But at least they know he’s not having “suspiciously friendly” relationships with any of the teachers. And anyway, who’s going to argue with playing video games at lunch?

By the end of Election Day, what just a week before was considered virtually impossible,  has become reality: with all the votes counted, Guffman emerges triumphant, with a commanding 65 percent of the vote and is crowned Dudley High’s next Student Body President.

All hail Larry!

So imagine if it really worked like that in U.S. Presidential elections? Keep on reading …

If Super PACs Were Allowed In High School Elections, This Is What They’d Look Like 20 May,2015Matthew Green


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mgreen@kqed.org; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

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