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School Board Election Primer

Elementary science classroom, Henderson, NV.
Elementary science classroom, Henderson, NV.
NSBA Staff

As I started to write about the Cypress School Board race, I realized I cannot write about school board races without offering some background and insight into the dynamics of school board campaigns. Therefore, I present to you a political campaign primer. This primer is intended to serve as background information, but will also be useful if any reader ever wishes to run for a local school board.

First, allow me to say running a political campaign is not glamorous. Political campaigns are hard work and are difficult to win, making well run campaigns an art form. A lot of thought and strategy goes into every detail for candidates who are serious about winning.

There are three basic things that every candidate should consider before they actually file papers to run for office. First is their name; second, their occupation; and the biggest and final consideration is the ballot statement.

The way a candidate states his or her name can make or break the candidacy. The old strategy was to make the candidate's name as long as possible, because it took up more space on the ballot. More space on the ballot meant voters were more likely to see it and cast their vote for you. But that was the strategy for paper and punch hole ballots. Today's electronic ballots demand a different strategy.

Today, candidates need to consider if absentee votes (which are still on paper and are filled out by the voter at home), or election day votes are more important. If absentee votes are more important, the candidate will likely choose to leave his or her name as long as possible. Take my name, for example. I may use "Alexandria A. ‘Alex' Coronado" if I believe absentee votes are more important.

However, if I believe election day votes are more important, then I would leave my name "Alexandria Coronado" because the lengthened name will have a smaller font size on the electronic ballot in order to fit on one line. Smaller font size means some voters might not be able to see my name on election day. Therefore, I might lose votes.

The second consideration is the occupation designation. Not every state allows candidates to have this, but California does, and it is a very important consideration. Each candidate gets three words, unless the candidate already holds an appointed or elective office. In that case, the candidate may choose to use proper title of the elective office, or the word "Incumbent."

For instance, "Governing Board Member, Anaheim Union High School District," is the proper title for someone who currently holds that office. It is most advantageous to use the title of an elective office, and is probably the best choice. Why? Because it creates space on the ballot. Remember the strategy on the length of the name? The occupation designation allows officeholders to "cheat," if you will, by using more than three words. This is one reason why challengers have a hard time beating incumbents for local offices.

The word "Incumbent" deserves special consideration. Personally, I never recommend using "Incumbent" as an occupation designation. This year particularly, there is a great sense of anti-incumbency, and I would not recommend any elected official use this word as their occupation designation, although some school board candidates did.

Now, let's say you are not an appointed or elected official. You still get three words. But which words do you choose? Your choices are much more difficult.

Let's say you are the father of two children in the school district, you served as President of the Football Boosters at the local high school, and you work for Boeing as an aerospace engineer. Your occupation designation allows three words. "Aerospace Engineer" is a pretty good designation, but you get one more word. "Aerospace Engineer / Volunteer" might be alright, but you could consider "Engineer / School Volunteer" as well.

See how it works? It's not so simple once you start thinking about it.

The final, and most important consideration when running for office is the ballot statement. It is the most important part of any candidate's campaign. It states why you are running, your qualifications, and what you want to accomplish if elected. Candidates who do not submit ballot statements are not considered serious contenders and they rarely win.

Candidates may choose 200 or 400 words for their ballot statement. Most candidates choose 200 words. Candidates must pay for the ballot statement, and it is not cheap. In the tiny Cypress Elementary School District, candidates who submitted a ballot statement had to pay $764 for 200 words. Larger school districts had to pay more money. The Orange County Board of Education Area 2 ballot statement cost roughly $4,800. But that ballot statement is mailed to every single registered voter's home, even if there are four voters in one household. The ballot statement is worth every penny.

Now, within those 200 words, the candidate must say everything they possibly can about their qualifications, why they are running, and what they want to accomplish if elected. Savvy candidates will ask for your vote within those 200 words. There are rules for writing the ballot statement. For instance, you may not say anything negative about any other candidate. You may not bullet point anything in your statement, and some phrases, such as "Anaheim City School District" count as one word instead of four.

So as we go through and evaluate candidates in the days before November 2nd, we will look at their name, occupation designation, and ballot statements to see if they are viable.

In the meantime, I challenge you, dear reader, to come up with a name, occupation designation, and a 200 word ballot statement following the rules I just laid out. Post it in the comments section, and see what your fellow readers have contributed.

I guarantee you it is not glamorous, but it is truly an art form.


  • Michael Mahony 4 years ago

    Interesting comment about the candidate statement, but if you look back at past elections for school board in Cypress you will find that the majority do NOT file a candidate statement because most people really do not read them. In addition, as you allude to, it is almost impossible to state your qualifications in just 200 words. In the current election, just one of the 4 candidates filed a candidate statement. I personally feel that people will find out more about a candidate by direct contact with that candidate and hence, your comment that running a campaign is a tough job. I am looking forward to future articles from you regarding this race that I am a part of. If anyone wants to know more about me personally, they can find out at

  • Linda 4 years ago

    Mr. Mahony failed to mention that he's the bought and paid for candidate of the teachers' unions. It is the key to getting elected these days.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    And Ms. Coronado forgot to mention that as a member of Orange County Education Board she was one of the nation's worst homophobs. Now she's just an unemployed woman.


  • Anonymous 2 years ago

    And Mrs. Coronado lost again in November 2012. This time for Cypress School Board. This time she finished third in a four person race barely beating a community college student.

    Keep giving us those election tips.

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