In preparation for the April election of a new student to the Board of Education, New Haven’s Committee on Student Elections met Thursday afternoon to determine exactly how the process will look.
The meeting of the committee, charged with handling all matters relating to the election of student representatives to the board, was the latest in a series of meetings that have taken place throughout the winter. Those meetings, committee member and Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said, are part of the process of learning from and correcting the mistakes made in the first student elections, held in June 2015. The committee is composed of a wide range of members — alders, representatives from the public schools and Mayor’s Office and the two students who currently hold nonvoting seats on the Board of Education. The students, a junior and a senior, are elected by city high-school students for two-year terms every other year, and sit on the Board of Education to offer a student perspective on resolutions.
Thursday night’s meeting dealt largely with the procedure for addressing alleged violations of the campaign rules in the coming election. The current guidelines for the elections state that candidates are responsible for all actions related to their campaign. But some committee members questioned how to tell whether a violation of campaign rules was, in fact, committed by a person related to the campaign. One such violation includes taking down a candidate’s campaign posters.
“I wouldn’t call it fair for [the candidate] to be blamed if it was a friend, and if they didn’t know which friend,” said Kimberly Sullivan, a senior at the Sound School who was elected to the Board of Education in June. “Last year, I had flyers torn down, and it was kind of like ‘What are you going to do?’ You don’t know who it was, and you can’t make assumptions — you weren’t there at the exact minute.”
Greenberg said the investigating body for any alleged violations of the campaign guidelines is the Committee on Student Elections, which he said will be able to use its discretion to determine whether an action was undertaken by a campaign or by an outside actor.
Joe Rodriguez, the mayoral representative on the committee, wondered whether the guidelines would provide an enforcement mechanism. He said any rules passed by the committee should also include measures providing for ensuring they are carried out.
Among the items the committee considered was the system for reporting alleged violations of campaign guidelines. Sullivan suggested that complainants should remain anonymous to the candidate, but that the school should know the complainants’ identity.
Greenberg said he sees both drawbacks and benefits to keeping complainants anonymous.
“I see reasons both for and against making this what it would look like in an election with electors,” he said. “It might prevent frivolous complaints, but I see reason against it because the people who are complainants are minors.”
In setting up the student elections, the committee has sought to maintain an equity between all candidates. In the 2015 election, the Board of Education provided 5,000 campaign leaflets for each candidate; this year, that number will fall to 2,000, according to New Haven Public Schools Projects Manager Suzanne Lyons. Lyons said the 5,000 leaflets the school district provided to each candidate last year proved to be too much, and many of the flyers sat in her office for months. She said 2,000 is a more realistic figure, given the scale of the campaign.
Coral Ortiz, an elected student representative to the Board of Education and a junior at Hillhouse High School, emphasized the importance of ensuring that all candidates are on an equal playing field.
“I want to make sure it’s fair,” she said. “I don’t want it to be so that the person who has the most resources is the person who wins.”
Ortiz proposed that the committee institute a spending cap on the race, but Rodriguez said such a cap would be difficult to enforce.
Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, who has chaired the committee since its inception and guided the student election process over the past two years, said Thursday night’s meeting will likely be her last on the committee.
Eidelson’s current place on the committee comes from her chairmanship of the alders’ Youth Services Committee, which Beaver Hills Alder Brian Wingate recently took over. Eidelson said she has briefed Wingate on the student elections process and that he will likely come to the committee’s next meeting.