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54 Ways to Say 'Vote for Me'

Seventh-grader Alex Krew's dad, Jeffrey, helps him practice his ad during the student council election campaign at Howard County's Burleigh Manor Middle School.
Seventh-grader Alex Krew's dad, Jeffrey, helps him practice his ad during the student council election campaign at Howard County's Burleigh Manor Middle School. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Students jammed the foyer of Burleigh Manor Middle School with 10 minutes left before the first bell would ring. There was Lei-Lei Bavoil, 12, wearing a glittery gold top hat and matching cape. A plastic pink lei adorned the hat and another hung loose around her neck. She frantically plucked more from a plastic bag to hand to anyone who crossed her path, along with rainbow-lettered stickers that spelled out "Vote for Lei-Lei #5."

Nearby, Chris Moskal, 13, also was handing out leis -- his were red -- using an even more aggressive strategy.

"Vote for me!" he shouted at students as they entered the foyer, throwing his lei around them before they could protest.

"If somebody votes for me, I'll vote for them, I'll say."

So what if the math doesn't work out? This isn't the SAT. This is politics.

Such are the wheelings and dealings of middle school. The run for the White House may have ended last fall, but the annual election ritual is heating up in schools across the Washington area.

At Burleigh Manor in Howard County, the campaign has ballooned into an elaborate race that would make Karl Rove proud. Fifty-four seventh-graders ran for student council this year -- about 20 percent of the class. But only 12 students will be chosen.

"You do the math," teacher and student council adviser Tony Miceli told the candidates at a meeting to kick off the race in early May. "Last time I did the math, that's what? A 1-in-5 chance."

Just to get on the ballot, students had to collect 16 signatures from classmates, two from teachers and two from parents or guardians. They also had to write an essay on their vision for the student council -- most say they want more dances -- and have no more than one D on their report cards for three quarters.

During a meeting in the cafeteria, Miceli outlined the three main components of the race to the students who qualified: a poster, a free-for-all Campaign Day and a 30-second television commercial. But he hammered home one main message.

"If you look at this like it's a campaign for popularity, you're going to have 12 popular people who do nothing," he said.

Lei-Lei refused to believe that the election is just one big popularity contest. Some of her friends are more cynical. They decided not to run because they didn't think they had a chance, she said. Lei-Lei and her friends sit at a lunch table on the periphery of the cafeteria. But she took heart in a story Miceli told her about a student last year who spelled out her slogan in duct tape on a cape during Campaign Day. She wasn't popular, but her idea was creative, Lei-Lei said. And she won.

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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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