Teacher proposes 'Idol'-style presidency
Undecided voters have one more choice for president: Westerville North High School history teacher Ben Hartnell.
Upon turning 35, the age at which Americans are eligible to run for president, on Oct. 1, Hartnell declared himself a write-in candidate, and began campaigning with the support of his students.
Hartnell said his decision to run served several purposes: He wanted to get his students excited about the presidential election, which he said "lacked some of the buzz that the 2008 election had," and he wanted a way for his students to raise money for Westerville Caring & Sharing.
Last year, a group of seniors in Hartnell's advisory group sold T-shirts reading "Fear the Beard" -- a reference to Hartnell's noteworthy facial hair -- to raise $3,000 for Caring & Sharing, which helps provide Christmas gifts and back-to-school supplies to Westerville students in need.
This year's shirts will read "Elect the Beard." Hartnell also has had bumper stickers and yard signs made with beard-related slogans, such as "Lower Taxes. More Beard."
Hartnell is happy to point out he would be the first bearded president since Benjamin Harrison served from 1889-93.
To launch his candidacy, Hartnell had his students research how much money and effort is required to be placed on the ballot for president. Candidates are required to obtain 750,000 signatures from throughout the United States and have to pay about $8,000.
"It's quite a tedious process to go through if you're not of a major political party," Hartnell said.
"If you're just an average Joe trying to run ... it's really a difficult task."
Since it was time- and cost-prohibitive for Hartnell, he had his students look into filing paperwork as a write-in candidate.
That was doable, but because it takes 72 days to process the paperwork to get registered as a write-in candidate, any votes for Hartnell wouldn't count.
Nevertheless, Hartnell's candidacy does have students buzzing about, and showing interest in, the presidential election and national issues.
"It was really cool," he said.
"It's hard to get students motivated. In their minds, these presidential elections don't really matter.
"It does," Hartnell said.
"In their minds, I'm an average American, and it was exciting in their minds, to think that they could actually run for president some day," he said.
"It doesn't have to be the top echelon of society."
As he has developed his platform, his students have discussed issues that tend to be more abstract for them, such as the electoral college, the tax code and the national debt.
To encourage them to form an opinion and think about solving issues, Hartnell threw out his most radical idea: For every national issue he faced as president, from abortion to Social Security, Hartnell would allow American Idol-style, call-in vote, with each call costing voters $1 to pay off the national debt and the winning stance becoming his stance.
"You throw these things out there and their eyes light up," Hartnell said.
"The students can all relate to American Idol, and half of them have admitted to voting for one candidate or another."
Hartnell's candidacy also has helped with its other goal of raising money for Caring & Sharing. His students have collected enough orders for T-shirts to raise $5,000.
Because the tactic has been such a success with students this year, Hartnell said he plans to begin collecting signatures and raising funds to have his name legitimately placed on the ballot in 2016.
"This has gotten the students legitimately excited," he said.
"It's worked better than any mock simulation that we've ever done," Hartnell said.
"This got them thinking, really got them pumped."