by Jeff Thom
More than a decade ago, when I was chairing the ACB Resolutions Committee, I began hearing the drumbeat by those ACB members who felt strongly that we needed to somehow expand the right to vote in ACB elections and on constitutional and bylaw amendments and resolutions to those not attending our annual conference and convention. Suffice it to say that, as chair of the ACB Voting Task Force since its creation early in the presidency of Mitch Pomerantz, I am acutely aware that the advocates for that viewpoint are extremely frustrated that more has not been done to achieve this goal. On the other hand, we are an organization built on long-held and venerable traditions, some of which form the basis of our voting system. It became very apparent, from the outset of our task force’s discussions of this topic, that the potential constitutional changes which incorporating a voting system that would include those not attending the convention would necessitate were unlikely to be adopted by the convention.
For those advocates of modifying our voting system to include people not attending our convention, voting task force members see two major obstacles. First, and by far the easiest, is the need to begin making ACB members familiar with existing voting technology that can be used for this purpose. Members need to be aware of both the amazing possibilities that such technology holds and its limitations. In fact, the task force has already begun some initial planning aimed at accomplishing that goal, and this two-part series forms one prong of that plan. However, the reason we have not yet done more to expose members to this technology is because of the far more difficult hurdle, that of the need for people on all sides of the issue to take an objective look into why voting system change may be necessary and the best way to accomplish that change, given both the limitations of affordable technology and the need to do our utmost to honor the democratic traditions of ACB.
This two-part series will examine the need for changing our voting system, the principles that should underlay any system that we might adopt, what voting system technology can and cannot do for us, and ideas about potential voting processes for our future. The goal of these two articles, whose genesis arose from a recent task force meeting, is not to supply all the answers, but to engender discussion among ACB members to enable us to eventually make well-informed and wise decisions on the future of the ACB voting process.
We begin by an examination of the reasons for changing our voting system. After all, ACB has used a system that, for more than half a century, has served us well, with its use of individual votes and delegate affiliate voting, but with participation restricted to those attending our annual convention. Voting system change, therefore, should be made only if it is viewed as extremely beneficial for ACB.
I want to highlight just a few of the important arguments that have been made for adopting modifications to our voting system that would enable people to vote who are not attending our annual conventions. As you will see, all of these points are, to some degree, interrelated. First, given the vastly different world in which we live, both technologically and in other ways, as compared to the world that existed when ACB was created, advocates for system change argue that the principle of having the most inclusive and democratic voting process possible speaks loudly for giving non-convention attendees the right to vote in ACB matters. Such a right was not an efficient or feasible method of operation at the time of our creation, but, advocates argue, that is no longer true given advancements in technology. Secondly, it is well documented that in recent years it has become far more difficult for all member organizations, including business, labor, social and charitable organizations, to recruit and retain members, and ACB is no exception. As the advocates for voting system change within ACB have long pointed out, the extension of voting to include non-convention attendees provides an opportunity to make ACB more participatory in nature, and thus more attractive to members and potential members. Thus, at a time when we need to do whatever we can to retain and recruit members, enabling non-convention attendees to participate in elections and policymaking decisions made through our constitutional amendment and resolution processes will benefit ACB.
Finally, convention attendance itself is likely to change the way we view our organization. From its beginning in 1961, the ultimate authority in ACB has been its convention. That is why we have a system whereby elections to office and changes to our constitution and bylaws are the product of voting by individual convention attendees and delegates who vote on behalf of ACB affiliates. For a variety of reasons, including cost, it is likely that convention attendance will slowly diminish over time. As we all are aware, the cost of attending a convention is increasing. Unlike most conferences, members must pay a large part, if not all, of the cost of attending an ACB convention. The ever-increasing costs of convention make it more prohibitive for many members to attend. Moreover, since members must defray their own costs, they must choose between attending an ACB convention and taking a vacation. There will certainly always be members who will, either out of dedication to this organization, or as a means of coming together with other persons who are blind or have low vision, attend our conventions. However, when you combine the cost of convention with the changing world in which we live, we must face the reality that, as things stand, it is very possible that we will not even be able to maintain current levels of convention attendance. In my view, whether out of necessity or choice, members will increasingly decide not to attend conventions.
It is, therefore, reasonable to argue for changes in our voting system, as a matter of fairness and inclusivity and as a means of attracting members and of preventing an ever-smaller number of members from making our electoral decisions if conventions decline in attendance. This, however, is really only the beginning of the discussion. Before analyzing what technology can and cannot do for us, it is important to consider the principles on which any voting system that we might adopt should be based.
We have already made reference to the goals of having both democratic and inclusive voting processes. For example, the use of delegate votes arguably promotes both of these goals by enabling affiliates to be represented as a whole, rather than having votes strictly limited to the individual votes of convention attendees. With respect to the casting of individual votes, the amendment of our constitution to require a secret ballot indicates recognition of the need to vote privately and independently. Equally important in order to ensure the fairness of the voting process is the need for security so as to avoid voter fraud. Additionally, many have argued for the need of ensuring that voters be those who have the capacity to make educated voting choices. The twin goals of inclusiveness and having a voter pool that is educated about the choices they are making may or may not be contradictory. When technology becomes part of an equation, the issue of affordability is another factor that must be taken into consideration. Put simply, the importance of having the most desirable election process, however one defines that to be, must be weighed against the affordability of the technology necessary to put that into place. It is, however, not the intent of this article to determine how to best incorporate principles into our voting system that may be competing, but rather to promote discussions about these principles and their application to ACB.
In the second part of this series, we will look at current voting system technology, both what it can do and its limitations. We will then examine some of the possibilities for voting system in ACB.