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