The voting for delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences has begun in earnest, and as this is my first election year at AC, I am seeing for the first time how the election process truly dominates all other business. Anytime there is a result to be announced, proceedings are interrupted, the winners are announced, and the next vote is taken immediately.
The election mechanism is a bit tricky, but I’ll try to explain it again here. First, we choose 14 delegates to General Conference. The laity have 43 candidates, so on the first ballot we voted for 14 out of 43. Any candidate receiving a majority of votes cast is elected, so on the first ballot we elected six delegates. That left us with eight more to elect, so on the next ballot we voted for eight out of the remaining 37 candidates (subtracting those already elected). It’s sort of an iterative process, I suppose. The main point is that a candidate must get a majority of votes cast on any given ballot to be elected, so it’s possible to have no delegates elected on a particular ballot. In fact, the second, third and fourth laity ballots had only one delegate each elected, so now we’ve elected a total of 9 (out of 14) General Conference delegates, and in our last ballot of the day we voted for 5 out of the remaining 34.
Got that? That’s the easy side. The clergy, who don’t allow for declared candidates, started with all 1,000 or so eligible clergy on the ballot. However, technical problems with the electronic voting software were so severe that 15% to 20% of the clergy ballots were invalidated. Apparently the software couldn’t handle the large number of candidates. The clergy re-voted their “first” ballot again this morning after being assured that the software bugs were fixed. Alas, that was not to be the case, as the second “first” clergy ballot was also rife with errors. The Bishop took the extraordinary step of asking for some clergy (30 or so) to voluntarily remove their names from the ballot, hoping that would allow the software to function properly. Nearly 150 volunteered, so with that reduced number, they took their third “first” ballot, which finally came out valid. Of course, given the huge number of potential candidates, no single clergy received a majority of votes cast. What they’ll do from here is begin to focus on the top vote-getters as having the most reasonable chance of being elected, and vote accordingly.
The results on the laity side have been pretty predictable, as each of the nine elected delegates so far was on the list of preferred candidates of the conservative bloc. Yours truly is lingering toward the lower part of the order; however, I can take heart in the fact that I’m not anywhere near dead last. I wound up 35th out of 43 on the first ballot, 24/37 on the second, 24/36 on the third, and 22/35 on the fourth. My total votes have been steady in the last couple of rounds, which I tend to interpret as showing a handful of hard-core supporters, since on each successive ballot the voters are allowed to vote for fewer and fewer candidates. In other words, the small numbers of people who are voting for me have me right at the top of their list. If I were to try to extrapolate this into some general insights into the NGUMC, I’d say that there’s a significant progressive element out there, and while it’s clearly in the minority, it’s a solid element.
Another thing I’ve pondered on today is the whole voting structure – i.e., why is it set up for successive ballots of fewer and fewer candidates? If I’m remembering my election law and democracy and governance classes right, I believe that this structure ensures that the majority can control most, if not all, of the elected delegates. Were we just to say that the top candidates are elected regardless of whether they receive a majority, the large number of conservative candidates might cancel each other out, while a small number of liberal candidates could get all the votes of the small liberal bloc, thus electing at least a couple of them. As it is, once one conservative candidate is elected, their votes can get switched over to another conservative candidate on the next ballot, and so on.
For all the talk of wanting to have a “diverse” representation on our delegation, so far the elected delegates are 100% white, and are mostly men. There are a handful of African-American candidates running, and some of them have a decent chance of eventually getting elected. There are also a couple of Asian candidates, one of whom has a shot. Unless I’ve missed someone, however, there are exactly zero Hispanic candidates. This is in spite of the fact that the Conference has been touting its growing Hispanic outreach and ministry. We’ve had Korean, Hispanic, and Indian pastors offer prayers so far this week, but none of them are yet represented on the delegation.
One other note: When the Bishop called for us to consider electing an “inclusive” delegation, the characteristics he noted include gender, race, and age, but funny enough, he didn’t mention anything about being theologically inclusive. So far, at least, there certainly hasn’t been any inclusivity from a theological perspective.