San Francisco middle school rejects election results for insufficient diversity

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From the Left Coast:

Concerns raised over lack of diversity in SF school election results

There's a bit of controversy surrounding student elections at a San Francisco middle school after the results were immediately withheld by the principal because they weren't diverse enough.

The incident happened at Everett Middle School in San Francisco's Mission District. The voting was held Oct. 10, but the principal sent an email to parents on Oct. 14 saying the results would not be released because the candidates that were elected as a whole do not represents the diversity that exists at the school....

According to Principal Lena Van Haren, Everett Middle School has a diverse student body. She said 80 percent of students are students of color and 20 percent are white, but the election results did not represent the entire study body.

"That is concerning to me because as principal I want to make sure all voices are heard from all backgrounds," Van Haren said.

The story quotes the mother of a 7th grader who is unhappy about the principal's decision:

Parent Bianca Gutierrez said the experience has made her son, a 7th grader, rethink his run for class representative. She said he is discouraged and does not want to be a part of the process anymore.

"That should have been something [discussed] prior to elections and prior to the campaigning process," Gutierrez said.

I wonder what voting system they used. Were representatives elected by grade or by homeroom? Was it first-past-the-post or some form of runoff? When constituencies are geographic, a certain amount of diversity is built in, but grades or homerooms at a school are all likely to have about the same proportion of different groups as the overall population. With such a homogeneous population distribution, a voting system designed to produce a plurality or majority result will likely give the most popular faction in the school all the seats.

If geography isn't a factor, and you're trying to produce a result representative of the diversity of the electorate, the Single Transferable Vote method may be the best method. With STV, if the council has M members elected by V voters, a faction of V/(M+1) voters (a number known as the quota) is sufficient to elect a representative.

It sounds like Principal Van Haren would like to classify students by ethnicity and have each ethnicity elect a proportional number of representatives, an approach that brings the final years of apartheid South Africa to mind. What makes STV superior to other forms of proportional representation is that it allows each voter to decide what kind of diversity is most important to him or her, and it also allows the voter to decide which candidate will best represent his or her priorities. A voter could decide that she cares more about having a student council representative who shares her love of Tolkien than having a representative who shares her ethnic background or her year in school. Instead of being assigned a constituency by some bureaucrat, in STV each voter effectively selects his own constituency.

Like instant runoff, in the STV system each voter casts a preferential ballot, marking "1" next to his first choice, "2" next to his second and so on. In instant runoff voting, counting, elimination, and transferring continues until one candidate has a majority of the ballots cast, because the aim is to produce a single candidate acceptable to a majority of voters. In STV, candidates are elected as soon as they can reach the quota of ballots -- V/(M+1).

Ireland uses STV to elect members of parliament from multi-member districts (each with 3, 4, or 5 representatives), which provides a combination of local representation and proportionality. It's also used for European Parliament, Assembly, and local elections in Northern Ireland, where the system ensures that both Unionists and Nationalists are represented, along with a range of opinions within each broader group.


CJP Grey has a "Politics in the Animal Kingdom" video which illustrates the process of STV in multi-member districts.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 20, 2015 12:12 AM.

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