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Last Friday morning, I had History class. Tiredly I walked into the classroom — it had been a somewhat sleep-deprived week — and seated myself at a table in the front row, as is compulsory for History classes. My History teacher greeted me with the sentence, “Congratulations, Jess! You will have the opportunity to exercise your limited democratic rights today!”

He referred to the elections for next year’s school captains, which were held after recess that day. We had talked before about how the elections were being run, and had (as usual…) been unable to agree. My History teacher thought they were being marvellously. Pseudo-democratic, just as it should be. No rights to privacy or secret ballots, as it should be. No possibility of electing an “inappropriate” candidate to represent the people, as it should be.

The election is being run in three stages. First there was the nomination stage. Our principal had explained the process to us — everyone who wished to submit a nomination would have to sign their name on a piece of paper, write the name of their nominee, and also make their nominee sign. “However, there is a catch,” she warned. “If, for some reason, you decide to nominate a candidate that I believe is inappropriate, I will intervene and they will be removed from the list. However, I am confident that you will all nominate responsibly, and that will not be necessary.”

My History teacher approved of this heavy-handed intervention. “Well, of course! Even if you think Nick and Tim1 will make great school captains, that doesn’t mean they’re going to. We have to protect you from making these kinds of mistakes.”

“That’s not very democratic,” I pointed out.

“No, it’s not. It’s not supposed to be. The world isn’t a democratic place; it’s all about granting the illusion of democracy. And we have to grant the illusion of democracy, because otherwise you’ll have people stamping around and complaining, ‘You took our human rights away!’ and then you have to go, ‘Pfft, human rights…'”

Stage two was the actual election. We were each given a ballot paper of all the candidates the principal didn’t veto and were commanded to write our names on the sheets. If we didn’t, you see, then there’d be no proof we actually voted, and voting was compulsory.

“This is not a secret ballot,” I complained. “What sort of stupid system is this? I don’t want people to know who I voted for!” Even if my coordinators were the ones who got to count the ballots, their office is kind of a free-for-all zone anyone can enter at will. I had no faith that my ballot paper would be seen by only my two coordinators.

My classmates were the ones who defended the system this time. They pointed out that voting was compulsory, and it had to be confirmed somehow. “That’s what an electoral roll is for,” I told them. “They should’ve checked our names off a list of year elevens when we handed in our ballots. That way the ballots couldn’t be connected to us.” This explanation seemed to trigger a realisation in the classmate I was speaking to, for he said, “Oh yeah…”

Stage three is the opaque counting process. All the teachers get to vote (all 30+ of them, and there are only 60 students voting…), and their votes have just as much weight as ours. How is that democratic? How are our captains supposed to represent the people if the people only get 60% of the votes?

Next week our school captains will be announced, but I have to admit that I’m not overawed by the how “free and fair” this election has been. “Limited democratic rights” indeed.

  1. These two boys are in detention every other day. They spend their Maths classes trying to make my Maths teacher miserable. They speak in a kind of drawl and largely ignore grammar when speaking. Those kinds of boys.


  1. What your teacher said sounds so appallingly Machiavellian. I also absolutely hate it when others can see my vote… for anything! Secrecy in elections like that is key because most of the time, people should vote for who they think is best suited for the job… And that person isn’t always the person they’re friends with. If their friend who’s a candidate finds out they didn’t vote for him/her, there will be trouble for sure.

    As much as I hate to say this, this “illusion of democracy” closely resembles the so-called democracy of the “real world”…

  2. I like the term ‘appallingly Machiavellian’ but that sounds a bit harsh. Surely your teacher has only the students best interests at heart. Besides whoever said that school was democratic?

  3. You could say that, Anonymous Bob, but I wouldn’t be so sure. For instance, my teacher also seems to have objections to students “questioning authority”. How could it possibly be considered in a student’s best interest to be forced to blindly obey the will of their teachers?

    In this election, the kinds of candidates that would be considered “unacceptable” are the kinds of people who wouldn’t run anyway. Even if they did run, they’d still have to attract votes from dozens of next year’s year 12s. That’s support they likely would not have. If they did, then they clearly would be wanted to represent the year 12s, and they should be allowed to do so. If they’re not, that makes a mockery of the whole “year 12s’ representative” idea.

    And I mean, we were told (many, many times!) that the idea was to elect who we wanted to represent us. We certainly weren’t told, “Well, we’ve basically chosen who we want as captain, and we’d like you to rubber-stamp it for us.” If that was the idea, there wouldn’t be any point in having an election. Why bother pretending? So… the whole process did seem to be an attempt at democracy. Just not a very good one.

  4. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA and that person who was elected was meeeee 😀

    Alot of your entries are in regard to Mr O’Caollaidhe’s comments

    • Well, when they’re so worthy of publication, of course! (By that I mean, when they’re so easily mocked. You know how it is.)

      Congratulations on your victory, too! (Even though that was quite a while ago, and I’ve probably missed the boat for congratulations-giving.)

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