The sophomores competing in this year’s All-Star debate grappled with whether the president of the United States should be decided by popular vote—a timely issue in light of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in November despite having won 2.9 million more votes.
The grade-wide event took place on April 13 in the Theater, where two teams of all-stars selected by their English classes after the first round of debates in March faced off before judges, classmates, and other interested members of the community.
In the end, the affirmative team—Sophie Collins Arroyo, Leyla Ewald, Harry Golen, Lauren Yun, and, in absentia, Will Jarrell (all ’19)—triumphed over the negative—Max Ambris, Talia Belz, Andy Elkins, Klara Kummerle, and Sam Klein Roche (all ’19)—convincing two of the three judges that the resolution favoring the popular vote should stand.
English Department Head Sharon Krauss said the department chose the topic because arguments about the Electoral College that have been brewing for two centuries boil over during presidential election years, and given the popular vote margin in November, this year was no exception.
“We thought it would be a timely and historically rich, multifaceted topic well suited to five-person teams,” she said.Ms. Krauss commended the debaters for staging such a close debate, noting also that an equal number of male and female debaters were voted to all-star status—the first time in the past few years that the teams haven’t been skewed male.
History Teacher Lizanne Moynihan, one of the judges, reported using a grading rubric to tally her scores for each team and having one side up by only half a point.
“That’s a real testament to just how incredible the students were and how high the standard was,” she said. “Both teams took a methodical approach in dissecting the motion, and they used historical evidence, contemporary examples, and well-researched hypotheticals to argue their points,” said Ms. Moynihan.
The opening speaker for team negative, Andy said he found the experience enjoyable despite the difficulty of bringing the judges and audience at a liberal school over to his side.
Sam speculated that his team lost not because the resolution put one side at an advantage but because they chose to argue a conservative case, arguing for the Electoral College instead of against the popular vote.
The negative side argued that the Electoral College allows all voices to be heard, stressed that the founders were opposed to a popular vote, and cautioned that removing the Electoral College would destabilize the country’s democracy, Sam said.
“Had we chosen an argument against the popular vote that did not include defending the Electoral College, I bet we would have had greater success,” Sam said. “The affirmative, however, did an excellent job researching and presenting their case.”
The affirmative side—who argued that the Electoral College is outdated, over-represents smaller, less populous states, and disincentivizes participation while the popular vote more fairly represents the wants of the American people—also commended their opponents’ performance.
“The best part of the debate was that everyone did exceptionally well,” Lauren said, referring to each of her opponents and her team affirmative partners. “It was something so special to be a part of.”
Audience member Rebecca Mironko ’19 lauded both teams for delivering well-researched and eloquent speeches, citing two debaters as standouts.
“Leyla and Sophie made an impression on me with their amazing speeches,” she said. “Leyla made really good points with a mellow yet assertive tone, and Sophie’s rhetorical questions put her point across even more. I feel like they could have been saying anything, and I’d be convinced.”
Leyla reported fighting nerves and stress leading up to the event but said that, despite them, she would do it again.
“It took a lot of courage to do it, but I gained so much knowledge—and learned how to collaborate effectively with my team—that it was definitely worth the hard work and effort.”
The winner of the Jacobs Prize for best performance in the debate will be announced later in the spring.