Voting in ACB: A Proposal for Your Consideration

by Jeff Thom

Last year, on behalf of the ACB voting task force, I wrote two articles for “The ACB Braille Forum” on extending voting to those not attending the ACB conference and convention. Specifically, the articles discussed the reasons for implementing such a system, an outline of how the system might work, and some of the questions and concerns that arise if such a system were implemented. The goal was to begin a dialogue among the membership about whether this momentous step should be taken.
 
At its fall board meeting, the ACB board of directors took action to further move the discussion along. It adopted the following motion: Pomerantz moved and McCann seconded that the ACB board direct the voting task force to prepare a report providing the findings and input from participants in the mock election, that report to include possible voting models and/or directions for further action, including cost considerations, and that this report be distributed through all communications media including ACB Radio, “The ACB Braille Forum,” and that this report be disseminated by no later than the 2018 midyear meetings.
 
The mock election referred to in the motion was held during May of 2017. In this election, those on the leadership listserv were used as a sample set of voters. Participants cast their ballots online and via telephone on both a resolution and a ballot for an office. We used the VoteNow system, the same system that both GDUI and Blind Pride International (BPI) are currently using for their elections. We had a number of comments on the mock election and, although several different issues were raised, the overall view, even among most of those who had concerns, was that it was easy to use the system and a positive experience. However, the goal of that mock election was primarily to allow folks to understand how the system works from a technological standpoint, not to answer the ultimate questions of how we might modify our electoral process and the desirability of doing so.
 
In response to the board motion quoted above, the voting task force met once in November and once in December. The outcome of that meeting is a proposal for the implementation of voting in the election of ACB officers, and directors and members of the board of publications for all members, whether attending convention or not. This proposal will be distributed both through ACB listservs and “The ACB Braille Forum,” as well as discussed at the presidents’ meeting in February. The voting task force is not recommending either acceptance or rejection of the plan, but feels strongly that the plan needs full consideration, including the consequences of not extending voting beyond those attending convention.
 
Before setting forth the proposal and raising some of the questions and concerns that arise from it, I’d like to thank the task force members” Mitch Pomerantz, Pat Sheehan, and Ken Stewart, officer liaison Kim Charlson, executive director Eric Bridges, and perhaps most of all, staff member Lane Waters for his hard work on developing this proposal.
 
At the outset, let me say this proposal is the only one that, given all the variables that apply to our elections, and taking into consideration the state of existing technology, staff time, the cost of implementing a remote voting technology, and other factors, we could reasonably view as worth presenting.  Under this proposal, VoteNow, the system used by GDUI for several years and used in our mock election, would also be utilized to implement the individual vote segment of this voting procedure. We chose the VoteNow system after investigating several remote voting providers and considering them based on format, accessibility and cost.  As an example, some remote voting companies have online voting but not telephone voting, some have web sites that are not very accessible, some send emails but not postcards, and some are far more expensive than others.  From our review, we settled on VoteNow as the most effective system to meet our needs. It also helped to know that other ACB affiliates had gone through a similar review and arrived at the same conclusion.
 
The process would only apply to officer, director, and board of publications (BOP) elections, and not to resolutions and constitutional amendments. In addition, director and BOP seats that come open as a result of an earlier election would need to be handled in the traditional way, as there would likely not be time under the technology being used, for VoteNow to configure the ballot.
 
Before describing how the system would actually work in the ACB election context, it is important to recognize that our problem is that we do not fit the “true” remote voting business model; we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  In a remote voting business model, the ballot is typically known well in advance and is not created or changed within a matter of minutes - the provider has ample time to create and test the website and telephone ballots.  Additionally, voting occurs over an extended period of time - days or weeks, not minutes or hours as in our case. I want to commend VoteNow for trying extremely hard to accommodate to our needs if we were to adopt the proposal discussed below.
 
Under our proposal, 30 days prior to the ACB convention, the deadline for being a certified member of ACB for voting purposes, the ACB office would provide VoteNow with names of every member of ACB certified as eligible to vote. Two weeks prior to convention, VoteNow would provide postcards, and emails if desired, giving each member a personal identification code. That code would be needed to cast his or her vote. The nominating committee would likely continue to meet Sunday evening. The voting process would begin on Wednesday morning, with nominations from the floor and the affiliate vote. Once all nominations were made, VoteNow would configure the ballot. Individual voting would open Wednesday at noon and close Thursday at 8 a.m. Individuals would not vote on the convention floor, but would, like those not attending the convention, be able to vote with their identification codes via telephone or using a computer. The election results would be announced Thursday morning, and any board or BOP vacancies could be filled by elections conducted in the current manner during the Thursday session.
 
Let me now discuss some of the issues that using such a system would create. First, the cost of using VoteNow would be slightly in excess of $9,000. We would need to decide how to pay for this cost. VoteNow allows ACB to include biographies of the candidates. However, any candidate who chose to run from the floor would need to immediately have his/her biography ready for input into the system. Would we want biographies? If so, would we want to change our practice by mandating that any person who seeks to run for an office must declare at some point prior to the election on the floor? What do we do about elections where there are more than two candidates? We could have a run-off on Thursday, using the traditional method where only those at convention could vote, or we could make the highest vote-getter, even if less than a majority, the winner.
 
With respect to board elections, a losing candidate now has the opportunity to run in subsequent seats. Now, that opportunity wouldn’t occur, unless a vacant seat was created through a board member winning an officer election. Do we want to change our board of directors voting procedure to have one election under which a voter would cast the same number of votes as there are open seats? Should we be concerned that a glitch in designing the ballot could throw off the entire timing of the election? How concerned should we be that, since our elections often occur on or around July 4, short staffing on the part of VoteNow could cause a problem? Should we consider the elimination of affiliate voting, since every member would now have the right to cast a ballot? Should we be concerned that some elections would be handled using the new methodology, while others would need to be dealt with using the traditional one?
 
On the other hand, with issues such as potential declining convention attendance and possible membership facing us, is doing nothing a recipe for a gradual decline of ACB? Also, we cannot make any change in our voting procedure without modifying our constitution and bylaws. By way of example, we would need to modify various provisions that limit voting to those at convention. 
 
The voting task force wishes that there were easy answers to the issue of enabling all members to vote in ACB elections, but there are not. We hope, however, that all of you will help us make the right decision for ACB. Those of you attending the presidents’ meeting in February will have the opportunity to provide us with input at that time. However, it is crucial that as many members as possible provide their thoughts and ideas on the future of our system of voting in general and specifically on this proposal. You can provide input either by e-mail at comments@acb.org or by leaving a telephone message (toll-free) at 1-877-926-1910.
 
Together, we will work toward the best solution for ACB.