How to ensure your school council voting runs smoothly

School councils serve two purposes: to elect trustworthy pupil representatives; and to teach children about elections, citizenship and representation. In both respects, voting is a great primer for real-world voting, and encourages debate, compromise and research – all useful skills to take into adult life.

Of course, we can’t forget that it’s children we’re dealing with, so any school council voting needs to be supervised, from arranging the nominations and debates to teaching children how to vote. However, supervision should take as light a touch as possible, so kids can learn about the processes and how they impact the end result.

Define a school voting system

First, you need to decide what kind of voting system you’re going to have. If you go for a simple majority and there are more than two candidates, it’s possible that the winner might not have popular support. There are two ways around this.

One way is to let pupils give a first, second and third choice of candidate. All the first votes are then counted, and if no single candidate reaches 50%, then the second votes are added to the tallies, and so on, until 50% is reached.

Another is to have a two-round vote, where all candidates are voted upon, and the top two go head to head.

Encourage debate

It’s important to note that a school council vote should never descend into a popularity contest. Make sure the issues are debated properly, and encourage children to enter the debates with an open mind. As teacher, you can chair the debate and ask the questions, and further questions can be taken from the rest of the class too.

Make sure voting is private

One way to help ensure voting is carried out sincerely is to make it private, just like in a real election. Whether you set up booths or make children line up and vote one by one is up to you and your resources, although it can be a good exercise to make a voting booth as a class activity.

Using voting tokens to cast ballots

Tokens are a great alternative to writing an X on a ballot paper. They are easy to count, cannot be traced back to the voter and can be used over and over again.

Children can be given different coloured tokens representing the different candidates in a multi-round election. All tokens go through the slot and into the same box.

In a second- and third-choice election, each candidate will have their own box, and children are given different coloured tokens: first choice, second choice and so on (gold, silver and bronze are good, or go through the colours of the rainbow). This way, each candidate’s totals are counted separately, starting with first choices, until one reaches the magic 50%.

Voting during a real election

If there’s a real nationwide vote on, you can learn about the election with voting tokens. Ask children to listen to the real debates on the current issues and find out how they would vote if they were in parliament.

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