Discuss the proposed “One Member, One Vote” amendment

All SPJ members are invited and encouraged to discuss the One Member, One Vote amendment that chapter delegates will vote on during the Excellence in Journalism 2011 conference, Sept. 24-27 in New Orleans. Please contribute to the discussion in the comments of this post.

If you would like to discuss the other amendments, we have set up a separate thread for that discussion here.

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  • http://www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    As chair of the Bylaws Committee I hope every SPJ member participates in discussion of bylaws amendments that will be debated at the convention. The Committee wants to answer your questions and hear your concerns.
    One-member one-vote would be a major change in how SPJ elects its officers and directors. The goal is to give all members to have a say in SPJ, with the hope that engaged members will become actively involved members.
    One-member one-vote is not a new concept for SPJ. An amendment introduced at the 2004 convention failed in a close vote, and another was presented a few years later. This year, the Committee spent many hours discussing and debating how to avoid flaws in previous proposals. In addition, we believe advances in technology for campaigning and online voting make this a more viable option now than it was i 2004.
    Read the amendment and the memo explaining it and join the discussion.

  • Carole McNall

    I’m delighted to see the proposed amendment. For many of us, the choice not to affiliate with a chapter is geographic — the nearest chapter to me is 75 miles away (and last I checked, they were not very active). That effectively means I’d be a member in name only, and that seems a disservice to me and the chapter. Local professionals have talked about trying to organize a chapter, but the logistics have kept us from it (so far).

    As things currently stand, SPJ effectively has first-class members — those near enough to join a chapter — and second-class members — the rest of us. This proposal would let all of us be first-class members for the first time in my almost 40 years of membership. I hope those attending the convention will resist the temptation to assume the rest of us don’t join chapters because we don’t care. Please give us a chance to show that we do care.

  • Art Blazer

    I understand the desire to have a more participatory democracy by allowing all members to vote even if they are not, for whatever reason, a member of a local chapter. I am concerned, however, about the fact that there is no specified way in which the elections are to be conducted. The wording says only that it shall be by secret ballot by a method chosen by the executive director with approval of the board. That means it could be changed each election and leaves open who knows how many other scenarios.

  • http://www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    Art

    There are several good web companies that provide election services. The Many associations, including associations much larger than SPJ, use them. For the association member they are pretty transparent. Either you follow a link received in an email or that is on the organization’s website, or you are given a url to the voting site.

    The bottom line is that even if SPJ used one such service in one year and switched the next it probably would look very much the same to members who vote.

    I expect Joe Skeel to gather information on voting services/apps and present choices to the board, probably with a recommendation to pick one from among them. The board would then have the ultimate decision.

    As for the procedure, the amendment says when voting will take place. In a year when there is a convention it will begin immediately or shortly after the opening business session and end a short time before the final business session. That usually is a period of about 40 hours. If there is no convention it is a 48-hour period in the 4th week of September.

    I’m not sure what else it could say to be more specific. But keep in mind, these are bylaws, not operating procedures. The proper place to be more specific would be in the operating procedures for the convention, which will have to be modified if this amendment passes.

  • Andy Schotz

    Thanks to the 10 chapters that supported having this amendment discussed at this year’s convention. (One was my chapter, D.C. Pro.)

    As Carole wrote, there is a big gap in representation in SPJ. People who pay their national dues but 1) aren’t close enough to a chapter to belong or 2) who belong to a chapter that fails to send delegates to the national convention have no say in who their national officers will be. This needs to be fixed.

    Anyone with questions or concerns about this proposal is welcome to air them here.

  • Teri Carnicelli

    I have participated in the discussions and the votes that have come up about this issue the last several years, and I am still unconvinced that there is a massive number of people out there who are demanding to be able to elect our board officers. There are a lot of voices stumping on their behalf…but I’ve never heard from the members themselves. Show me evidence that there are a large number of people who want to vote but can’t, and I might reconsider.
    In the meantime… I think there’s a section that needs some clarification. It’s Article Nine, Section 9, which reads, “A committee appointed by the president shall count the ballots and report the results of the election to the membership at the final business meeting of the convention.”
    If the votes are made electronically, presumably whatever software is being used to allow that will tabulate the votes. So I’m not sure a “committee to count the votes” is actually required. Or at least, it needs to be rephrased, since no one is actually going to be physically counting tangible votes.

  • http://www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    Teri

    Your request for evidence that members want to vote as a precursor to giving them the right to vote raises a coulple of fundamental questions.

    1. Why do you assume that because lots of SPJ members have not asked for the ability to vote means that a) members generally aren’t interested in voting for the leaders of the Society; and b) that members are generally happy with the current state of affairs? Is it necessary for members to launch an uprising to get the vote?

    2. SPJ is, in many respects, a democratic institution and, therefore, it should be presumed that members should have a say and that they will exercise their right to have a say if given the opportunity. Sure, many members won’t vote, but in any election in this country voter turnout often is below 50 percent. Why do we deny SPJ members the ability to vote merely because it cannot be shown empirically that a large number will exercise the right if it’s made available. The fact is, in New York in 2004, the vote on a flawed one-member, one-vote proposal came very close to passage.

    3. More than 700 people registered for the Las Vegas convention last year, most of them SPJ members, but only 96 of them were able to vote. Those 700 demonstrated their interest in SPJ, enough interest to travel to the convention, and I assume many of them would have been interested enough to cast ballots if they could have. But that was not open to them.

    4. Your argument also does not address the issue of lack of representation. As the memo notes, Only 1 percent of SPJ members, the delegates, voted. A very large number of members, probably around half of the Society, were not represented by delegates at the convention and had no say, whether they wanted to or not.

    Regarding your question about Article 9, technically and technologically you are correct. The software will tabulate the results that will be reported to the convention or, in a year when there is no convention, to the membership.

    But that doesn’t mean that if a position is contested and the vote is close, one of the candidates won’t challenge the results or the accuracy/reliability of the count or the software. If such a dispute were to arise, it would be better for all if a committee appointed by the president takes the heat than for staff to take the heat. If such a dispute were to arise, someone might have to look at the database of voting records and count the votes. So I don’t see a problem with the way it’s worded. But I’m open to a suggestion about how it might be made more clear.

  • Andy Schotz

    Hi, Teri. Here’s another point (mentioned in the Bylaws Committee’s memo) that I think illustrates a gap in the system. Let’s say you do everything by the current book. You pay your national dues. You join a chapter and pay the extra dues (a requirement for having your voice – indirectly – represented at the national convention). All is well – until someone on the chapter board goes AWOL and fails to submit a chapter report. Your voice in the national election has been wiped out. Maybe it doesn’t happen much, but some chapters are denied delegates for failing to meet certain requirements. How unfair is that to the individual member?

    I also go back to the territory example, which I think is more than enough reason to change the system. I used to live in upstate NY, which has several major cities – Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester and others. Not a single person in upstate New York can have a voice in SPJ’s national elections – unless they join, say, the New York City chapter, hundreds of miles away. That, to me, is an enormous flaw.

  • http://sites.roosevelt.edu/jmcclell John McClelland

    The disenfranchisement argument is compelling. I have always had sufficient confidence in our Chicago Headline Club pro chapter delegates to feel well represented by dedicated leaders who encounter the candidates face-to-face, but this makes it clear that many other members are not represented at all.
    If it passes, one hopes the members in metro areas and hinterlands will get good campaign info before the convention, and that the Working Press staff will be online with effective, impartial, reportage of the campaign at convention before the final window of voting times.

  • Carole McNall

    Teri, what would it take to convince you that we who are out here too far from chapters actually do want the right to vote? Clearly, we can’t prove it by voting …

    The last graph of Andy’s most recent comment, the one that starts “I also go back …,” is precisely my situation. I live in NYS. But I don’t even live near one of the major cities — I live in Olean, which is about 75 miles south of Buffalo. So even a Buffalo chapter would do me little good unless, as I say, I become a chapter member in name only. I think that serves no one.

  • Dana Neuts

    At this point, I am still considering both sides of the issue, and will discuss it with the chapter leaders in my region prior to the convention. I’d like to bring up a point that has yet to be made though. Today’s technology provides us with the opportunity for chapters to be far-reaching, no longer restricting them to geographic boundaries. John Ensslin’s BlogTalkRadio author series is a good example of this. Chapters and SPJ members from anywhere in the country can participate, regardless of their location. In fact, nonmembers can participate too.

    In my region, we have discussed bridging the geographic gap in places like Montana and Alaska by offering such programs via webinar, livestreaming and other methods. My point in mentioning this is that SPJ members CAN BE active in the society without being affiliated with a chapter. They are only limited by their creativity and ability to work together to share discussions like this, programs, etc.

    This, of course, goes beyond the issue at hand, but I think it is important to acknowledge that geography does not HAVE to separate us from each other. We have tools to bring us all closer together and to better engage our membership. With that said, I do not agree that geography is the sole reason to institute “one member, one vote.”

    Dana Neuts, Region 10 Director

  • http://www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    You are correct that there are ways to solve geographic gaps and your region is an example for others. But making programs available to far-flung members does negate the lack of representation for as many as one-half of SPJ’s members. There is no guarantee that a convention delegate casting his/her votes for leaders of SPJ is aware of the needs, views and concerns of members s/he purports to represent.

    The issue addressed by the one-member, one-vote amendment is not geography. It is making sure that every SPJ member who wants to take part in selecting the Society’s national leaders has the opportunity to do so. Geography merely contribute’s to the problem this amendment would solve.

  • Teri Carnicelli

    Bob, you and I have different opinions as to why people attend national conventions. I believe primarily they are there for the professional development and networking opportunities. Some might also be interested in the officer elections and various amendments, but I truly believe that by and large they are more focused on other issues.
    One area of concern that has not been addressed is the cost of implementing this new voting system. Most of the debate at this point has been ideological. But what about the financial implications? SPJ members might support a plan for one-member, one vote in a general way; but what if its costs $50,000 to implement? Those same members might be more interested in seeing the money spent on ways to expand chapters, or create new “online” chapters for members in more rural or isolated areas–which also would create more delegates and more voter opportunities. And I have a feeling doing that would cost hardly anything at all except time and commitment.
    I think people in these areas where no chapter exists, or where the nearest chapter is geographically too far away, would benefit more from the creation of an online chapter where they can take advantage of SPJ programming and other chapter resources, as well as find ways to connect with each other.
    I don’t deny that there is a degree of disenfranchisement in our organization; but I strongly believe that it is more related to members seeking resources, assistance, training and networking, as opposed to members who want to vote in a national election and can’t.

  • Teri Carnicelli

    National/HQ has the e-mail contacts of every SPJ member, be they a member at large or a “local” chapter member as well. Why not simply send out a survey that says something like:

    Are you aware that each year at the national SPJ Convention new board officers are elected to represent the organization?
    1) Yes
    2) No
    3) Don’t Care

    Would you support the national organization spending $??????? to implement a software program to allow all SPJ members, regardless of attendance at the national convention, to be able to vote for national officers and other ballot issues?
    1) Yes
    2) No
    3) Don’t Care

    Would you support the national organization creating a series of online-only chapters to accommodate members who live in states where no chapter exists, or where they are geographically to far away to take advantage of the state/local chapter?
    1) Yes
    2) No
    3) Don’t Care

    What better way of seeing if all the members want a vote than by asking ALL THE MEMBERS? And then seeing how many actually reply ☺

  • http://Www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    Teri, the Bylaws Committee was very sensitive to cost. We discussed that at length with Joe Skeel, which is why we noted in the memo that streaming video of the candidate speeches at the opening business meeting would be too expensive, but audio streaming would be practical. It is also why we say the board needs to make some policy decisions about the types of assistance headquarters should provide candidates, taking into account expense and staff time as well as the best ways to facilitate campaigning.
    Both Joe and I have talked to leaders of other associations and have received no indication that providers of online voting services charge gobs of money. Several other journalism associations that are smaller than SPJ manage to let all members vote without breaking the bank.
    I’m sure you picked $50,000 out of the air to make a point. But in 5 minutes online I found 2 services that charge from $1,600 – $2,200 for an election with 8,000 poet,brisk voters. Several others did not provide pricing online. The point is that using the cost as a reason not to let all members vote is a bright red herring.
    I agree that most people who attend the convention are there for reasons other than voting. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in who SPJ’s leaders are, or can’t be bothered with participating in an election. Many of us have careers and families and hobbies, and we still find time to go to the polls on election day. I think most of us would be pretty upset if someone said we have to join a political party and attend its caucus to have a vote on who will occupy the statehouse next term.
    It is interesting that you raise the possibility of creating online chapters. At the board’s request the Bylaws Committee looked at how that might be accomplished. We recommended establishment of a committee to examine that idea and report back within a year. The bylaws implications of that proposal are minor compared to the policy and logistical issues. In addition, the idea of creating virtual chapters is not new. When it was presented in the past there was little interest among members such chapters would serve. Nonetheless, we believe it is worth another look.
    Even if SPJ were to create one or more virtual chapters, that option does not alleviate the shortcomings of the delegate voting system we use now.

  • Bill McCloskey

    As at-large director on the national board I just finished reading the reports of our pro chapters. A substantial number of chapters, large and small, did not file reports this year, thus their members, through no fault of their own, will not be represented in the voting at convention. How is that fair to the dues-paying member? This amendment is not designed for those who have no interest in voting. It is designed for those that do.

  • Christopher Gunty

    As a member of the DC Pro chapter, but not a delegate this year, I encourage my chapter’s delegates (which I assume include some of the commenters on this thread) to vote yes on this proosal. McCloskey makes an excellent point. The amendment is designed for those who do want to participate. Let’s allow that. I was a chapter member in Phoenix, AZ, so i was represented, but later, as an SPJ member in central Florida, I had no local chapter, so i had no representation, even though but would have liked to have had a voice. Why was I less worthy of a voice simply because I changed jobs and locations?

    As an organization that tracks and advocates democracy and transparency, isn’t it print for our organization itself to be as democratic as possible? Technology now allows us to provide this option; let’s make it happen.

  • Christopher Gunty

    Last graf should have read, “…isn’t it prudent…”

  • Jeremy Steele

    As a former regional director, I wonder about removing chapters from the process of electing RDs. RDs have to work closely with chapters – organizing regional conferences, reviewing chapters health, assisting local members in starting chapters and stepping in when chapters are in trouble. Will we lose that close relationship and understanding of chapter operations if chapter delegates no longer select the RD? Why not only put the national officers to a vote of members?

  • http://www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    Jeremy

    Nothing in this amendment removes chapters from the process of electing RDs. In some ways it gives chapters more say in selection of RDs than the current system.

    For example, a small chapter may have only one or two votes under the delegate system. Its delegates go to the regional meeting and casts them for the candidate the chapter favors. But one or two larger chapters with three or four delegates each easily controls the election. Under one-member, one vote, the every member of that small chapter has a vote. If the board of the small chapter has had a good working relationship with the incumbent, board members could agree to support that person and to encourage other chapter members to vote for the incumbent.

    As a member of one of SPJ’s largest chapters, I can tell you it is incredibly difficult to move our very diverse membership in one direction. Small chapters, made up largely of newspaper, broadcast and freelance journalists mainly covering state, local and regional issues, often are more cohesive.

    Some opponents of this amendment have argued that it will favor candidates from large chapters over those from smaller chapters. I believe the opposite is true. My experience with chapter elections, where voter turnout is very low, convinces me that candidates who focus on winning over small chapters will have the advantage.

    This amendment will change how candidates campaign in that they will have to reach out to much larger audiences. But it does not take anyone out of the process.

  • Andy Schotz

    Two points made here speak volumes.

    Carole McNall wants to be active in SPJ, but geography prevents her from joining a chapter (there aren’t any near her), which means she has no say in who SPJ’s national officers will be. If she lived in Washington, D.C., and paid the same $72 in dues, she would. There’s no defense for that imbalance – it’s entirely unfair.

    And, as Bill McCloskey said, the current delegate representation system has a gaping flaw. All it takes is one negligent person in chapter leadership, who fails to submit a report, and no one in that region will be represented at the national convention.

    If we want all SPJ members to weigh in on who leads the organization, why would we condone these significant obstacles?

  • Art Blazer

    Bob Becker’s answer to my earlier post doesn’t quite address my concern. The wording says only that it shall be by secret ballot by a method chosen by the executive director with approval of the board. That means it could be changed each election and leaves open who knows how many other scenarios. It doesn’t say that some form of electronic voting would be required. It doesn’t say anything about how it would be handled. My concern is not that SPJ would change electronic voting companies but that someone might come up with some idea that s/he thinks is viable but turns out to not work. As for cost, the Writers Guild has started using one of those electronic voting companies. Perhaps you could get a real cost estimate by calling the WGA-East office. Of course, you’d want to change the wording of the proposal to require electronic voting through an established company (if that’s the decision) and not leave the wording so vague.
    My bigger concerns are how to ensure our members get to know the candidates for whom they’re voting and how to enable anyone who wants to run to be able to (electronically) send campaign material to all the members (at least once). (In the WGA election now being held, candidates’ statements are posted on the WGA website but candidates who wanted to contact the membership with an additional mailing, with endorsements for example, apparently had to pay for a mailing and that might be cost prohibitive for some who might be good candidates but who only earn a journalist’s salary.

  • http://www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    Art, the thing to remembers is that this is a bylaws amendment, not a policy statement or set of procedures. The bylaws are like a constitution. They are intended to address broad issues and not to focus on details because, unlike policies and procedures, they are difficult to change.
    As noted in the memo, if this amendment passes, the board will have to adopt procedures to implement it, including what voting system to use and what services staff will provide to candidates. We easily could amend the amendment to specify that voting will be by electronic means or through an outside contractor. However, just as the landscape for accomplishing an online election has changed markedly since the first one-member, one-vote amendment came to the floor, it will continue to evolve. Five years from now the methods of implementing an election might be very different. Policies and procedures can readily be altered to accommodate those changes.
    I agree with you that SPJ should do everything feasible to facilitate campaigning. We have suggested creating campaign blogs, sending emails for candidates and other ways staff can do this. Here, too, the appropriate way to implement campaign services is through procedure, not the bylaws.
    The amendment, as drafted explains how a slate will be chosen and how candidates not on the slate may enter the race. I think that process is pretty carefully covered in the amendment.
    I hope that bringing more people into the electoral process will encourage more SPJ members to run for office. I think SPJ would be much stronger if there were more contested elections. Competition demands creativity, and candidates who face opponents must do more than utter platitudes about how great they thing the Society is and how enthusiastic they are about serving its members.
    If you believe the amendment should be more specific on certain points bring them to the floor. The convention can amend an amendment, so long as the substance of the proposal is not significantly canged.

  • Sylvia Gurinsky

    I also support “One Member, One Vote” for some of the reasons listed – members who can’t be or aren’t members of chapters for geographical or other reasons; an election process currently weighted towards larger chapters; and avoidance of a situation where membership suddenly goes up or down in a chapter, adding or costing delegates.

  • http://www.dcappeals.com Bob Becker

    I am writing to urge your support for the one-member, one-vote amendment up for consideration at the SPJ convention next week. You should support it because it is the right thing to do, it will encourage more members to become involved in SPJ and, I hope, more members to seek national office in the Society.

    The current procedure for electing the national board excludes many SPJ members from participating:

    • SPJ members who are not affiliated with a chapter and members of chapters that do not send delegates to the convention have no say in who will lead the Society.
    • Most candidates rely on direct contact with delegates at the convention to win election. Therefore, even if a chapter is represented by delegates, most chapter members are unlikely to have enough information before the convention to direct or even influence how chapter delegates vote.
    • The vast majority of SPJ members who do not attend the convention and cannot vote have little incentive to become engaged in governance of the Society.

    Disenfranchisement of members is a major concern. There are no SPJ chapters in eight states. In some states that have chapters the nearest chapter may be hundreds of miles away, making a member’s active participation unlikely, if not impossible. A year ago, about 1,100 of SPJ’s 8,200 members were not assigned to chapters because no chapter served the geographical areas in which they lived.

    Only 39 of SPJ’s 70 pro chapters and 21 of 120 student chapters sent delegates to the convention in Las Vegas. Some, but not all, of the absent chapters were ineligible to vote because they failed to file annual reports or did not put on a sufficient number of programs. Regardless of the reason 31 pro chapters and 99 student chapters were not represented, their members had no say in the election.

    In the end, 75 pro delegates and 21 student delegates, 1 percent of SPJ’s members, elected the 2011 officers and board members running for vacant at-large seats. Because delegates vote within regions for regional directors, a far smaller percentage elected those board members.

    The current system discourages member participation in Society governance. Ultimately, it reduces the pool of potential candidates for national office. For example, although many SPJ members have expressed concern about recent board actions, only a few current board members face contested elections.

    The amendment before this year’s convention is designed to give every SPJ member an opportunity to have a say in who leads the Society. If more members believed they could influence policy at the national level through the election process, I think they would exercise their right to vote and might consider running for the national board.

    Please read the amendment, the blog at spj.org discussing it, and the memo explaining how it would work if enacted.

    Despite the benefits one-member, one-vote offers, it has attracted some pretty vocal opposition, and I would like to respond to those arguments.

    A central premise of the opposition is that most SPJ members are not interested in governance issues. Noting that one-member, one-vote amendments generated by the national board have come to the convention before and were defeated. They view those past efforts as evidence that this amendment is unnecessary. Those seriously flawed proposals were very different than the one before you this year.

    Ultimately, opponents argued that the change to one-member, one-vote should be driven by the membership, not the board.

    Direct democracy should be a feature that should come from the people to the leaders, not the leaders to the people. SPJ’s bylaws call for a very workable process for SPJ’s members to bring a proposal to the convention floor themselves if 10 chapters call for a bylaws amendment to be considered and voted upon by delegates. If only 10 chapters out of about 70 or so want it, then let’s consider changing our rules.

    Well, after the national board in April refused to bring the amendment to the floor, the boards of 10 chapters voted to do so. They demonstrated the error in the opponents’ initial premise, that there is no support among SPJ members for this amendment. That action is especially significant because the provision allowing chapters to bring an amendment to the floor has been part of the bylaws for decades. In my 42 years as an SPJ member I cannot recall chapters ever before invoking it to bring an amendment to the convention floor.

    Regarding the merits of one-member, one-vote, opponents complain that it would be too expensive for candidates to mount campaigns targeting 8,000 SPJ members. The memo explaining the amendment suggests several ways SPJ can help reduce the cost of campaigning. It will take greater effort to campaign, but I doubt that the added cost will be significant.

    Next, they say, “Running an online election is a rather complicated task for an already overburdened and smaller-size SPJ headquarters staff to administer during its busiest time of year.” Let me assure you that the Bylaws Committee worked closely with Joe Skeel as it drafted the amendment, and neither Joe nor Linda Hall, who coordinates membership and delegate matters, has voiced concerns about implementing one-member, one-vote. Joe has discussed the technical and policy aspects of online elections with managers of other associations and is evaluating websites that provide such services.

    Opponents argue that the delegate system serves SPJ members well because chapter members can express their views about candidates to delegates, and delegates can vote in accordance with those members’ views. There are several errors in that logic. The only communication SPJ members get about candidates are bios published in Quill and on the SPJ website. Candidates send emails stating positions to delegates and chapter presidents, but not to the membership at large, who do not have sufficient information before the convention to advocate in support of specific candidates in contested elections. Although members elect chapter officers and directors, there is no guarantee that a chapter’s delegates to the convention have ever stood for election. In other words, rank and file members have no say in who represents the chapter at the convention and cannot express dissatisfaction with a delegate’s actions by unelecting him or her.

    Once again, I urge you to vote for one-member, one-vote when it comes to the floor in the final business meeting next Tuesday. If you have any questions or comments about this amendment or the others the national board proposed post them to the blog. I would be happy to answer your questions directly, but if you have them other SPJ members undoubtedly have the same concerns. If we discuss them on the blog those members will reap the benefit.


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