by Chris Ritter
Note: Update on this post at the bottom of the page .
One prominent headline from General Conference 2019 was the allegation that certain delegates were seated who were not duly elected by their annual conference. The few in question were from Africa where visa issues complicated things significantly. The initial allegations seem to have been overblown, but a task force was nevertheless formed to investigate and recommend improvements to the system. There will undoubtedly be great scrutiny applied at GC2020.
The Illinois Great Rivers Conference may want to consider the status of our own delegation. Bishop Beard reported to the clergy gathering on Thursday night, June 7, that Rule of Order # 16 was violated throughout the voting process. (See p. 14 here.) He cited election sub-rules 2 and 4 as processes that were not followed. He remarked that we used the same system for all our balloting, so at least we were consistent. He graciously asked the clergy gathered if anyone objected to proceeding. No one spoke up. To my knowledge, the matter was not raised to the laity who completed their voting earlier in the day… also with the system not in compliance with our rules.
Further questions might be: Did we hold a valid election in keeping with our approved Rules of Order and, if not, were the rules duly suspended by the body?
Let me take a moment to summarize how our delegate voting is designed to work. Multiple ballots are performed separately for lay and clergy delegates. Voters are told how many slots are available and they vote for that number of candidates, entering the corresponding ID number into an electronic keypad. When a candidate gets over 50% of the votes on a given ballot, they are considered elected and are not up for consideration in the next ballot. In a two-party approach, getting a candidate from one’s “side” elected is a huge advantage. It allows votes to shift to another candidate from the same ideological slate, potentially leapfrogging over others. This strategy was used to great effect in our conference and others… fair game play.
Here is the problem: Our electronic voting system should have, by our rules, counted ballots with multiple instances of the same name as “spoiled” and thrown them out. Instead, it accepted the first vote, treating it as a legitimate ballot with only one vote. [The folks that run the electronic system confirmed this was the case]. Counting those spoiled ballots throws off the number needed to elect on that ballot. It also possibly opens the process to manipulation. Multiple voting for the same person would raise the performance of one candidate while creating a higher standard for other candidates to meet. This is a real advantage if the goal is to get people from your bloc “over the hump.” I am not charging anyone with this sort of manipulation, but there was a ready way to game the system.
It is not at all clear the way we voted changed the number of progressives and traditionalists that were ultimately selected. But there were many close votes, including elections missed or gained by single-digit variables. It seems obvious that we would have had different results if we followed our own standing rules for elections. The names on the leaderboard sometimes shifted wildly based on who was elected on each ballot. I notice that other annual conferences this season are declaring ballots invalid and requiring do-overs as needed. Bishop Malone in East Ohio, for instance, declared all voting invalid at one point due to a Scan-tron glitch and started the balloting process completely over. This is not uncommon.
It would have been possible to suspend the standing rules to allow for elections in keeping with the electronic voting system used. That would have required a 2/3 vote of the plenary body before the voting began. We didn’t do that.
Clergy were informed of the problem but the laity were not so informed, giving them no opportunity to object.
Since we did not have an election in keeping with our rules, it seems to me an argument could be made that we still do not have a legitimately-elected delegation. I am not calling for new elections. I’m simply raising the issue now while remedial actions are possible. It seems we have opened ourselves to a challenge before the Credentials Committee of GC2020.
Remember, the challenge to our delegation need not come from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. I certainly do not blame our bishop for this error as he only ever has endeavored to be fair and gracious. Given the great scrutiny that will be applied by all sides, will the Credentials Committee seat our delegation? I believe this is a valid question for conference leadership to consider.
On June 14, Bishop Frank Beard issued the following statement via Facebook:
I am writing to notify members of the annual conference my response to the questions that have arisen concerning the election of lay and clergy delegates to the 2020 General Conference.
During voting in the clergy session, a question was raised as to whether our voting process was following our Rules of Order which, along with our Standing Rules, guides how we conduct the business of the Annual Conference. Upon further investigation, we determined that we were not in conformity with the Rules of Order and it was reported to the Clergy Session. No one challenge continuing in the same fashion. There was no such concern raised in the laity session although the process was identical.
Annual Conference ended with no one questioning the validity of the election, although a referral was made to Standing Rules to examine our processes.
After consulting with legal counsel, reviewing the voting process and reporting to the General Conference, it has been determined that the lack of a challenge to continuing the process constituted a suspension of the rules and therefore, the elections are valid, they were conducted in a fair and open process and the delegates may be certified by the Annual Conference Secretary as our duly elected delegates and be seated at General Conference.
As we prepare for 2020 and beyond, we will be bringing rules of order and standing rules to update those voting provisions that reflect older methods of voting with rules that conform to the voting technology we are currently using.
I encourage each of you to pray for our Delegation and look for ways to encourage them as they do this extremely important work. Thanks and God Bless.
Bishop Frank J. Beard, Resident Bishop
So glad to hear it. Obviously IGR thought theirs were doing this as well
Blessings and peace, Beth Ann
I was following the issue to a certain point when the post talked about multiple submissions (by one voter) that should have “spoiled” the ballot so that it would not be counted in the total votes rather than the “first” submission being accepted and ballot remaining in total vote counts. But then I lost what was “wrong” about a number of individuals voting for the same person & maybe switching to another on several rounds. Is it only a problem when a change in delegation views takes place? If multiple people, free to vote how they wish and not promised or committed to voting a specific way is the problem then there would be NO valid elections because all ballots except the first one in would be a spoiled ballot and each candidate would receive only one vote.
I read a post, or maybe an article, in which individuals (in differing conferences) were discussing how conservative-traditionalists had “beaten” liberal, progressive, centrists in delegation make-up due to better organization. This has been an ongoing practice I am led to assume due not having been part of nor knowing about until this year. So now, it has been “discovered” and with possible consequences loonnnggg overdue?
Everybody has been involved in some form of electioneering or another. It is the byproduct of a system such as ours that attempts to dilute and share the power–which is a worthy goal that has obviously yet to be achieved with the current structure. Currently there is a battle going on as to who will control the future of the UMC so the stakes are high. If the future of the UMC was not on the line the outcome of the electioneering would not be so important.
The problem Chris is describing isn’t about switching who one votes for between rounds, its voting for the same person more than once within a single round. For example:
There are five positions up for election, therefore voters should cast votes for five different people. Instead, a voter votes the same person five times.
Correct ballot: Incorrect ballot:
1. Mickey Mouse 1. Mickey Mouse
2. Goofy 2. Mickey Mouse
3. Donald Duck 3. Mickey Mouse
4. Pluto 4. Mickey Mouse
5. Minnie Mouse 5. Mickey Mouse
According to election rules, the incorrect ballot should be an invalid ballot and NOT be counted at all. Instead, Mickey got one vote from the invalid ballot.
What makes this a problem is that our rules say that to be elected, a candidate must have 50% +1 vote to be elected. So if there are 500 voters, one would expect the election to require 251 votes for a single candidate. However, when there are invalid votes cast, then that number is reduced. If only 490 votes are valid, then the election requires 246 votes (not 251).
Mickey got 241 valid votes and 10 invalid votes. By our rules, Mickey was not elected. However, if Mickey still received credit for the 10 invalid votes, then his total becomes 251 votes and he’s elected in either the actual valid vote threshold (246) or the potential vote threshold (251).
If Donald got 247 valid votes and 0 invalid votes, he should have won election, but the inflated vote count means he didn’t achieve the higher threshold triggered by counting Mickey’s invalid votes.
The result, Donald should have been elected, but Mickey took that spot instead.
It doesn’t matter whether this was an intentionally exploited loophole or simply an error of programming, the election result could be/should be questioned.
Thanks for the illustrative walk-through. Gaming the system should not be rewarded with delegate seats.
My tablet was glitching on me. I apologize if my last comment posted multiple times.