Students need to be more politically involved in choosing their SMOB


If you ask any MCPS student to name the current Student Member of the Board of Education, they will probably give you the correct answer. Ask them to explain how the SMOB is chosen, though, and they’ll probably draw a blank. 

The SMOB is the most prestigious and powerful student political position in Montgomery County. The student elected to office isn’t just an arbitrary figurehead; they hold equal voting power to that of the adult board members, and they cast ballots regarding public policy. They vote on policies like the boundary study and the Racial Equity Bill, which affects over 160,000 students. 

But other than talking with candidates at occasional school visits and watching a single half-hour debate, students are largely uninvolved in the SMOB selection process. The SMOB nominating convention, which attendees affectionately call “nom com,” convenes for one day each February with the goal of deciding which two candidates will run in the general election. The convention is comprised of students who have opted to attend the event on behalf of their school and vote on the SMOB nominees. 

To create a more knowledgeable electorate during the SMOB selection process, MCPS should offer all students the opportunity to attend the nominating convention.

For many readers, this article could be their first time learning about the SMOB nominating process; in an informal Black & White survey of 88 students, only 10 were aware of the convention in the first place. 

Currently, only 12 of Whitman’s 2,000+ students can vote at the convention. Attending the convention isn’t an opportunity that most students know about; members of the student government end up filling up most of the few hundred spots. Only a handful of these spots go to students outside of the SGA, and even then, those attendees are typically involved in regional student government. This year, all of the Whitman students who attended the nominating convention had some tie to either local or regional student government. The effect of the student voting cap is clear: Students only get to passively hear from the two nominees that the convention chooses rather than having a role voting at the convention.

There are two reasonable yet substantial ways to fix this issue. One step is to publicize the nominating convention. The fact that the vast majority of students don’t know that they can voice their opinions earlier on or can attend the convention by filling out a standard permission slip proves that the current system doesn’t effectively reflect the student voice.

Convention organizers could increase publicity for the event through a wide array of formats, including video messages, social media initiatives and working directly with schools. One of the best ways to reach students is through social media. In the same Black & White survey, 97% of the students reported having one social media account and 95% reported that they have a presence on multiple platforms. Flooding students’ Instagram and Twitter feeds with information on the convention may therefore increase attendance. 

More broadly, Montgomery County Regional, the student leadership organization that represents the entire school system, could work with stakeholder groups within high school communities to increase awareness. If the convention organizers were able to work alongside specific schools’ student governments and spirit organizers — in Whitman’s case, the SGA and Whitmaniacs — they could help bring awareness to the convention within new groups. The MCR student government could partner with schools, using each system’s connections to the student body to increase the breadth and depth outreach. This grassroots organizing could take form in loudspeaker announcements, information delivered by General Assembly fourth period delegates or even a reminder in Whitman Shorts.  

Another method could be through multimedia broadcasts. Administrators require English teachers to show the debates between the finalists in April, but teachers could also show an advertisement for the nominating convention in February, explaining that there are more than two candidates earlier on in the process. This way, students get both a better understanding of how the SMOB finalists are selected and have the opportunity to attend the event.

More than simply increasing awareness of the convention’s existence, MCR should stop limiting the number of students who can vote at the event. This would allow more students to have a voice.

As it currently stands, the 12 Whitman delegates who attended the convention in February and vot weren’t elected by their peers — they were simply the students who were enthusiastic enough to sign up. There’s no accountability in who the delegates select. They aren’t representing the interests of their student body. If the convention gets to unilaterally decide who can run in the general election, then a larger number of students should at least have the power to impact the vote. 

Student attendance would add a level of accountability for the delegates. With high attendance, students would listen to more of the candidates’ platforms for themselves and form their own opinions on who deserves to get the nomination. With their newfound voting power, students would be able to discuss with other delegates who they think should get the nomination rather than having a handful of nearly random students represent Whitman.

There’s always the possibility that if the student voting cap were abolished, too many people may sign up to attend the convention. The county should collect definitive statistics on how many students each school intends to send, ensuring that they have enough space in whichever auditorium they rent out. If, for whatever reason, MCR can’t find the space to accommodate more students, they could record a livestream for people to stay involved throughout the whole process. Granted, this might disincentivize students from participating, seeing as they can’t be a part of the convention in person, but it would still be a viable alternative.

Students may not be lining up for miles to go to the convention, but that’s not the point of publicizing the event. The goal is to give students the opportunity to attend and learn about the political process. Opening up the convention would combat an uninformed electorate and give interested students an avenue to become involved in county politics.

In a county whose students are known for having pride in their activism, we should reconsider how involved we would all like to be in the MCPS voting process. If the SMOB serves on behalf of Montgomery County students, then students should be informed and fairly represented.