Voting in ACB, Part 2

by Jeff Thom

One of the most important internal issues facing ACB over the next several years is that of determining whether we need to alter our system of voting, and if so, how, especially with respect to whether those not attending our annual conference should be able to vote in elections or on constitutional and resolution matters. In part 1 of this series (see the November 2016 issue), we explored some of the arguments underlying the need for changes in our voting system, including those of increasing membership and the problems faced by the potential for declining convention attendance. We also examined some of the principles important to us in determining what, if any, voting system changes should be made, noting that these principles may, in some instances, lead to contradictory views on the most effective voting system design. In this article, we focus on what technology can and cannot do for us, keeping in mind those principles elucidated in Part 1.
A few ACB affiliates, including Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI), are currently using voting system technology for their entire voting process. The voting system used by GDUI provides an effective, efficient, reasonably secure mechanism for members to vote via either telephone or computer. Moreover, such technology is usable both for elections and for voting on resolutions or constitution and bylaws amendments. Thus, it is important to begin exposing members to this technology.
Using this technology, everyone is provided with a secure identification number and notice is given ahead of time of when the voting process begins. Notices can be sent out via e-mail or by postcard. A determination is made in advance how long voters will have to cast their ballots; in the case of GDUI, it is two weeks. Votes can be cast electronically or via telephone. Information can be included as part of the ballot regarding candidates or measures being voted on. Most users have found the system easily usable.
However, neither this technology nor other easily available methods lend themselves to an effective means of extending the right to vote to members not attending an ACB convention during the convention itself under our current system of elections. Many issues arise when attempting to adapt this type of system to voting during a convention, but I’ll highlight one that illustrates the incompatibility with our current system. First, because nominations for office often occur from the floor, and when no candidate receives a majority vote we need to hold another election in that race, our current system requires real-time ballots to be prepared. It appears to be very difficult, if not impossible, to prepare the telephonic or online ballot in real time using existing technology. Moreover, assuming this technological barrier can be overcome, it is very likely that the cost might well be prohibitive for ACB. Of course, we do not know whether and when the barriers presented by technology, including cost, security and the ability for non-convention attendees to vote in real time  may be overcome. As the dialogue over potential changes to our system of voting proceeds, we will certainly continue to examine the ever-changing state of voting system technology.
So what might a future voting system for ACB look like? There are a host of possibilities, both with respect to constitutional and bylaws amendments, resolutions, and elections for office. For example, resolutions and amendments to the constitution and bylaws could be voted on only at conventions. Alternatively, they could be required to be proposed by some date prior to or during convention and voted on during a period that ends sometime after convention. If resolutions and constitutional amendments are voted on either after convention or during convention by those not attending it, questions arise as to whether proposals could be modified after they are originally presented and the impact on the ability to conduct debate.
With respect to elections, they might be conducted in such a manner that the convention narrowed the choices to two, and members would vote after convention to decide the winner. If barriers to real-time voting are overcome, then even more possibilities arise. There is no question that we face difficult decisions about the future of our voting system, even though final decisions may be years away. If we are to make the best decision possible for ACB, we need to examine the changes within ACB and to voting technology in light of the long-held values of this organization. The more dialogue we have today about the future of our voting system, the better decisions we will make tomorrow.