Breaking down the process of running for SMOB

April 13, 2024, 6:04 a.m. | By Tejusvi Vijay | 1 month ago

Looking beyond the Instagram posts and newsletters to understand the process of running for SMOB.

“Running for SMOB is really hard. It takes a lot out of you,” Blair junior and 47th Student Member of the Board (SMOB) candidate Sam Ross says.

For the past few months, students’ Instagram feeds have been inundated with posts about term goals, convention announcements, and voting encouragement. But don’t be misled—this isn’t for the upcoming presidential election or a local government race. It’s for the upcoming SMOB election.

Every year, sophomores and juniors from schools across the county run to take a seat on the MCPS Board of Education and, according to MCPS, exercise full voting rights on topics of “collective bargaining, capital and operating, and school closings, reopenings and boundaries.” 

But with great power comes great responsibility. And this responsibility starts well before the SMOB is sworn into office in July.

Campaign and election timeline

The SMOB election is run by the Special Elections Committee (SEC), a student committee composed of elected Montgomery County Regional-Student Government Association (MCR-SGA) and Montgomery County Junior Council (MCJC) students. The SEC works closely with Director of Student Leadership and Extracurricular Activities at MCPS Shella Cherry to revise the election protocols, organize the annual SMOB Nominating Convention, and run the final election in April.

Campaigning starts in January when students can file for candidacy by submitting a completed nomination and rules form to Cherry. After filing, candidates have about a month before the Nominating Convention in February where delegates from every secondary school select the two finalists.

Though the election only lasts four months, the SEC spends the off-season debating and approving election protocol amendments. This year in particular brought several new election protocols, impacting the way candidates campaign and strategize.  

Financial barriers

This school year, the SEC approved of a drastic change in the finances department: limiting candidates to only spend $50 on promotional materials leading up to the Nominating Convention. In previous years, the budget was nearly double. 

Though a lot of SMOB candidates focus on having a strong social media presence and successful in-person visit strategies, students often overlook the cost that candidates have to spend on business cards, stickers, or website domains. All money spent on promotional materials must be declared on a file sheet submitted to the SEC.

Cherry views this change as a step in the right direction for a fair SMOB election. “[This makes] it much more accessible … for students to be able to campaign amongst one another,” she says.

Wootton senior and SEC co-administrator Aneela Shemsu hopes that this change encourages more students to consider running. “I wanted to run for SMOB my junior year, but I noticed that I was not going to be able to because of the current budget, which at that time was actually around $400. I came into the SEC wanting to hopefully create a new system,” Shemsu says.

And though the update was meant to alleviate some of the stress of running, some candidates have experienced the opposite. “It is a very big jump that has definitely impacted me and … my stress level thinking about when I file my finance report,” Ross says.

Ross also worries that this lack of printed materials could affect voter turnout as social media may not be enough for outreach. “I think in the next few years, we're going to start to see a small ripple effect that if people aren't getting stickers or business cards … we could see a decline in voter turnout and voter engagement,” she says.

Extensive experience

Having previous experience in countywide SGAs is another cited advantage for winning the SMOB election. However, the problem lies within the lack of accessibility to these entry level positions.

Both countywide programs MCR-SGA and MCJC host meetings at the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville. Meetings after school and during school hours are much more accessible for students who live close by. This could be one factor explaining the overrepresentation of Richard Montgomery High School students in SMOB history. Of the past 47 SMOBs, over 20% have been students from Richard Montgomery.

“Overall, I think [meeting location] skews pretty upcounty in terms of how far and how long it takes to get to things. I've definitely run into that myself. If I was maybe in a different situation where I didn't have the ability to pay for as much gas as I use, then it might be an issue in terms of access for me,” Ross says.

Though current SMOB Sami Saeed had limited experience in countywide SGA prior to his term, many SMOB candidates in the past decade served in a countywide SGA leadership position prior to running. Before winning SMOB, 45th SMOB Arvin Kim served as MCR-SGA Treasurer, 44th SMOB Hana O’Looney served as MCR-SGA Vice President, 43rd SMOB Nick Asante served as MCR-SGA chief of staff, 42nd SMOB Nate Tinbite served as MCR-SGA president, 41st SMOB Ananya Tadikonda served as MCR-SGA Vice President, and 40th SMOB Matt Post served as MCR-SGA vice president.

Saeed’s win may be the start of a shift away from this trend. Cherry couldn’t isolate one factor that results in a candidate becoming a finalist, noting that the Nominating Convention outcome is often arbitrary. 

“I have seen students who have been in MCR become a finalist and I have seen students who I've never met before, but because of their work in all these other spaces, and their ability to connect with the students on the stage at the nominating convention, ... they became a finalist and moved forward in the election,” Cherry says.

Selecting delegates

The introduction of a random selection process for student delegates and alternates attending the Nominating Convention is another big change to the election process this year. 

In past years, each secondary school could send a certain number of student delegates based on the school’s population. If the number of interested students exceeded the allocated seats per school, the school SGA advisor held an election to choose the delegates among the pool of interested students. 

Cherry and SEC members found this to be an unfair system that was biased towards popular students or students in SGA. As a solution, the SEC created a new randomized delegate selection system, where the school SGA advisor uses a random number generator to pick among the pool of interested students.

“It could become more of a popularity stance, versus: how do we really ensure that we're getting the voice of the people the student body reflects of the school? So this year, the big change that the special elections committee made was they did a randomized selection of the delegates,” Cherry says.

The new system has impacted how candidates conduct class visits, requiring a shift from solely SGA classes to whole school interactions. Ross notes that the new system alters the nominating convention from being a popularity contest to be a more just voting system, impacting every candidate. 

 “It does kind of add a degree of uncertainty. I feel like the nominating convention … is notorious for just being a bunch of friends of whoever's going, but now it is a little more randomized which has some drawbacks and some benefits for I think everyone,” Ross says.

Looking forward to April

While the process of voting only takes a click for most secondary students, it’s important to remember the dedication that candidates put in to get to that point. And even if you have no interest in running for SMOB, you can still play a large part in the election by staying informed and casting your vote for the 47th SMOB on April 17.

“Even if you're not running for SMOB, please, please, please vote. That is the biggest impact that you can make,” Shemsu says.

Last updated: April 17, 2024, 7:48 a.m.

Tags: SMOB

Tejusvi Vijay. Hello! My name is Teju (she/her) and I'm a staff writer. Outside of SCO, I enjoy playing board games, watching Disney movies, and telling puns. More »

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