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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Marino: Ballots and Bookshelves

The Dartmouth Student Government’s decision to encourage students to vote in the Hanover School Board elections is misguided.

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe argued during the Virginia gubernatorial debate in October 2021. It was this line that likely cost McAuliffe the election. The Republican candidate Glen Youngkin seized on McAuliffe’s words, launching a series of attack ads aimed at mobilizing angry parents. Following the debate and subsequent ads, new polling showed Youngkin leading by 17 points among parents of K-12 children — a demographic that was crucial to his election win. The 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election provides evidence that parents feel strongly about the importance of their role in deciding how their children are educated. 

On March 4, 2024, Dartmouth Student Government sent a mass email to students with instructions on how to vote in the following day’s Hanover School Board elections. Most Dartmouth students do not have children attending Hanover public schools, nor are they permanent residents of Hanover. As a result, Dartmouth students voting in the school board elections take democratic power away from those directly impacted by the Hanover School Board elections. Given that Dartmouth has an undergraduate population of around 4,500 students, and the Town of Hanover has a total population of 10,348, students have the potential to sway Hanover’s school board elections. DSG’s email demonstrates a lack of respect for the rights of Hanover locals to self-determination and could result in school board policies based on students’ ideological leanings rather than the needs of the Town. 

According to data from the 2020 election, President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in Hanover by 75 points, while polling among Dartmouth students had Biden up by 73 points. Since Dartmouth students tend to support Democrats about as much as the local population, these numbers appear to counter the narrative of leftist college students interfering with the wishes of a local population. However, looking at school board elections in particular could paint a different picture.

Since a majority of Dartmouth students cast absentee ballots for elections in their home state, students who vote in Hanover are usually more politically-engaged because they have to change their residency. Dartmouth students voting in the Hanover School Board elections might boost the electoral outcomes of more extreme candidates. By encouraging ideologically minded students who do not share the practical concerns of Hanover parents to vote in school board elections, the DSG potentially bolstered support for more extreme ideological candidates who do not share parents’ concerns.

The data implies that parents of varying political affiliations can come together to support the nonpartisan education of their children. Not only do a majority of parents of both parties agree on issues like the need for social and emotional education programs, but partisan parental advocacy organizations like the Moms for Liberty saw most of their candidates lose in the 2022 midterm elections. However, students may have different voting priorities than parents of local children. It is logical to infer that due to differences in age and life experience, college students and parents share different views on issues such as screen usage and mental health. As a result, ideologically motivated students gaining representation on Hanover’s school board interferes with the ability of parents to advocate for the education of their children in a nonpartisan way.

The candidates in the Hanover School Board election have very different beliefs on partisan issues, meaning that more partisan Dartmouth students have the potential to bolster more partisan candidates. For example, Dartmouth assistant professor Marcela Di Blasi rallied against “parental rights” bills in her platform statement on the basis that they are often “anti-trans,” while Anastasia Rodzianko argued “the job of the school board is not political activism.” Even though Hanover overwhelmingly votes for Democrats, certain partisan issues surrounding education are still competitive in the town. After all, while Dartmouth students vote for school board candidates based on their political ideologies, Hanover residents vote for candidates out of practical concern for their children. The DSG interfered with the right of Hanover locals to determine how their children are educated. In order to promote goodwill between Dartmouth students and the wider Hanover community, students should respect the decisions of Hanover parents rather than manipulate school board elections. 

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.