I remember that back when I was in school every term we would vote our class president. That vote was a hot topic a few days. Then we quickly forgot about it and moved on with our lives because it didn't really matter. Quite similar to the perception of 'actual' elections :)
One might say no harm done and I honestly never thought about it much since I left school. But today my oldest son was telling me he wants to be the class president so I had to think a little about this topic.
The big problem is that these elections are giving the kids a very flawed perception of democracy and problem solving in general. The big problem is that democracy is completely pointless in small groups where everyone knows everyone else personally as there is no trust issue. Then the perceptions from this little experiment are internalised and applied by the students also to the national democratic system. Of course the class democracy has little corruption, of course it is a friendly experience and of course there is no violence. But this does not hold at large scale. To call this experiment a little democracy or even something close to a democracy is a joke.
Apart from these scaling issues I see three problematic lessons the kids learn:
Your vote matters:
Quite clearly the kids realise that in their little experiment of democracy every vote counts. In fact voting becomes quite interesting, you form alliances, you talk, you make deals.... and in the end you have a voice.
Also you know the class president and the class president knows you. The class president may actually faithfully represent your interests in case there is some conflict. And there are different options available, kids are not politicians, there are real differences between them.
Of course a 'real' democracy is nothing like this. Your vote is meaningless, the options you can vote for are all strangers that dont care about you and that from your point of view are entirely interchangeable.
Don't expect anything:
Quickly after the election everyone realises that being a class representative is boring and there is not much real impact. This would actually be a good lesson for the kids to learn, but often they are not ready to question that everything around them might at least partially be a lie.
So instead they learn that you should not expect too much from democracy. It is something you do and then ignore it or suffer under the consequences. Be apolitical, but still go to vote? Sounds strange, but that is actually the majority of people I know. When I tell them I dont vote they think I am crazy, but all they do is demonstrating their consent at the polls and then go back to ignoring politics for the next years; and definitely do not become personally active for something. You already did your duty by voting, now shut out and let the politicians reign.
You need a title to do something:
The entire idea of an elected class representative is so stupid that I am confused I never realised it when I was a kid. All the duties a class president has, everyone can do. You do not need to ask for permission and you do not need a title.
Every student can: speak, negotiate with teachers, represent the entire class or some subgroup or settle disputes among students on their own. And quite naturally without any adult interference the kids will sort this out among themselves. Some kids are shy and stay for themselves, others love talking and others are very social. No matter who you elect, it will always be the same kids that talk to the teacher if the students are pissed about something.
The election to class president is adults trying to interfere with the natural dynamic. The results will often be worse and the really bad thing is that kids are told that in order to discuss certain matters one should hold a title. It brings a belief in special roles that are not based on skills and a loss of confidence in the own capabilities to make a difference without explicit permission.
What the kids should really learn is really the opposite. If you want something, then see how you can make that happen. Be smart, use your resources. Trust in your own abilities and learn to use your own moral compass to figure out what is acceptable and what is not.
In the end I have to conclude that this fun little experiment in democracy may be quite harmful for the children. The kids learn that solutions, even in their personal life, should come from democracy, that you need a title to be taken seriously and than you need permission to exercise some of your most basic rights. It promotes false ideas about democracy and teaches the students to render themselves subject to majority decisions. It may not be a big deal, but after ten years repeating this over and over again the kids are ready to give their votes at the polls and accept being ruled without too much resistance.