No Politicking?

December 22nd, 2007 by bebersghost

In a recent comment, Baer’s Ghost (a ghost whose identity is not actually known to me), continued a debate relating to international board elections. I’ve been arguing that right now IBoard is chosen by a relatively small group of BBYO members who are active in summer programs, and that with modern technology there is no reason for this to be the case. His response:

I do agree that an online voting system may be of benefit – but what about politicking? That’s part of the reason why we don’t have open elections, isn’t it? So how do you suggest getting around it?

This raises a very important and deeper issue, one that is particularly relevant as we enter our national election season. What exactly is politicking, and why and when is it bad (or good)?

Politicking is the process a democracy goes through in which candidates for office try to persuade the electorate to vote for them. In its mildest form it presents itself as speeches and arguments. In a more intense form you’ll find misrepresentation and false promises. At its worse you have negative campaigning, threats, corruption and divisiveness that can tear a community apart.

The important thing to keep in mind is that politicking does serve an important purpose. In order for an electorate to vote wisely they MUST know as much as possible about the candidates, their character and their goals.

Many chapters have a policy against politicking except at, or right before elections. The idea is to minimize the time in which members are pitted against each other, and to reduce the chance of schisms developing in the chapter. Chapters can get away with this because as a small community, the members know each other very very well. You don’t need a long campaign season on the chapter level because everyone is well aware of the character and experience of each candidate. Speeches and brief questions to the candidates are usually more than sufficient to clarify goals and remind members of the candidates experience.

On the other extreme you have national elections. Here a prolonged election campaign is essential to give the electorate the time to get to know the candidates and see them in action, as very few voters have or ever will meet the candidates in person. While it’s true (and sad) that many voters won’t take the time to do so, those who wish can, through the web and media, make an intelligent choice. And since voting is free, anyone has the opportunity to vote.

Back to BBYO. For historic reasons we have the equivalent of an electoral college – a delegate based system in elected representatives choose international board members. The reasons for using this system in the past is obvious – it was not practical to hold a national or global election. There was no mechanism to educate the electorate or have them vote. This is a major reason why our political parties had primaries to choose delegates to choose nominees, and why the electoral college was created in the first place.

However, today every voter can participate in primaries, and state delegates are generally required to vote according to the state results (at least on the first few ballots). On the national level, electoral votes are also allocated based on statewide results. We can do this because communication technology allows for an educated electorate and nationwide voting.

Why should BBYO remain in the 18th century? Given that we now have the technology for every member to make an educated choice among candidates, and the technology (via B-Linked) to allow a world wide election to take place, why would we stay with a system where a member’s vote is not one, but two levels away from the final vote? Where a member votes for chapter leaders, who are delegates at regional elections, who vote for regional leaders, who are delegates for voting for IBoard?

What we end up with is a situation where the individual member’s voice is virtually lost. Candidates and voters are limited to a relatively elite group who choose to and can afford to participate in international programming.

Baer’s Ghost says it best:

I won’t argue that it is a large financial imposition to attend these programs, but I truly believe that making friends at International programs greatly increases your likelihood of winning.

I was talking to one of my friends from CLTC that ran for International Board a few years ago and at the following IC, more than half of our CLTC was there. Essentially, out of the 250 votes possible, they already had 25 of them locked down, just from one program. Those 25 individuals held a strong voice in their delegation because they attended the program, and often held a spot on their Regional Board. So, that 25 votes may easily translate into 75 votes – people buzzing about this person they actually know that is running. On top of that, say that you do prove yourself as a stronger candidate, say you secure another 50 votes just by virtue of being a strong candidate.

What do you call a system where you can lock down 10%-30% of the vote just by attending a convention? Will this result in candidates who are responsible to the order? Or one where candidates are responsible to the friends who elected them? Is this democracy or leadership by clique? Baer’s ghost is right – making friends at international programs does greatly increase your likelihood of winning – in fact, I’d say it’s a necessity. But is this a good thing? Is it democracy?

Politicking exists in order to create an informed electorate. Given the choice between election of IBoard with no politicking by a relatively small clique of delegates, and a wide open campaign with broad discussion open to every member in the order that addresses and debates any topic – I’ll take the latter. I have faith that standards and traditions can be set to prevent the worst aspects of such debate (aka negative campaigning). So as far as politicking is concerned: bring it on!

9 Responses to “No Politicking?”

  1. Baer's Ghost Says:

    Glad to see you make a post about the subject. As far as who I am goes, I’m not quite ready to give away my identity, but we may have crossed paths in the past. It’s a small world out here for us ghosts.

    But about this little thing called politicking. I know there are benefits to be gained by allowing for elections to be wide open – campaigns can evolve (somewhat), ideas can grow, and you could say that there would be a greater deal of accountability once a certain candidate was elected. It’s true that BBYO teens are less likely to resort to slander than a high school student council election, but we’re also dealing with more complex issues.

    I’m tempted to bring this back to the subject of Districts – you know, those things that they got rid of. Remember that the District of a region is the first number, and the region is the second. Now that we have the funding, on the International level, to support it, do you think we should bring Districts back? And do you think that this would help in developing the youth leadership that has been fading from BBYO? Maybe Districts would be the stepping stone to International Board that is truly needed.

  2. bebersghost Says:

    Interesting question (about districts). I think it depends on what purpose they were meant to serve. If it was just another way of building a bigger hierarchy and increasing the distance between members and their international representatives, I’d say it was a bad idea.
    However, if district leaders had specific roles distinct from international board members, I could see some advantages.
    As an example, consider state government – where state legislatures and governors have a very different purpose than federal government, and different areas of authority.
    So while I can’t say right now that I’d advocate bringing districts back in general (or as they once were), I think it’s a topic worthy of consideration going forward.

    The Ghost

  3. BBGLover Says:

    About the argument that it is “unfair” to be able to lock down the vote simply by attending an international convention:

    Isn’t that what politics is all about?

    Candidates in national politics campaign to soccer moms, blacks, women, every demographic in every state they can in order to win the crucial “insert type of group here” vote. If you don’t campaign and have people get to know you, you have no chance, no matter how good your stances on the issues may be. And it’s a known fact that those who spend more money on their campaigns will have a much higher chance of election. Hell, incumbents, who have more money to spend on campaigns, are reelected close to 100% percent of the time in Congress, even when their challenger holds views closer to that of the electorate.

    And although BBYO is (hopefully) not as jaded as the United States’ political machine, many similarities exist that simply come up in democracies as flaws in the system. On the regional level, a candidate who has attended more regional conventions is more likely to be elected to regional board (unless they are unchallenged). Why? Because they’ve met more people, people that are now casting the votes. Someone who has been active for years in their chapter but is at their first regional convention/event at the convention they run at has little to no chance of election. Is this fair? Financially, they need a lot of support to go to multiple conventions a year, plus dances and any other events a region may sponsor.

    This is also true on a chapter level. A chapter member who attends more events is more likely to be elected to board than an inactive member, because they know more people.

    But as an incredibly active member of BBG on the chapter, regional, and international level, there’s more too it than that. After all, the example that Baer’s Ghost gave is common. People who attend CLTC, ILTC, etc. are almost guaranteed to get the votes from their program.

    But what happens when they’re not the only attendee from their CLTC or ILTC? This year’s IBoard had multiple attendees of ILTC and Kallah 2006 running against each other. Obviously, those summer program attendees couldn’t have voted for two opposing candidates. This is where experience comes in. An experienced candidate from a low represented CLTC is still going to win over a lousy candidate from a CLTC with tens of votes at IC. Because of their training and their high committment to BBYO, CLTC graduates can recognize leadership when they see it, and have loyalty to the ideas of fairness that AZA and BBG uphold in their elections above voting for the most popular candidate (well, almost always).

    And who says having summer program experience is such an unfair advantage anyway? After all, one of international board’s large priorities is that of coordinating summer programs and picking summer program coordinators. Could someone who had never been to CLTC really coordinate a great CLTC? These summer programs are an experience you really have to go through before you can recreate it for someone else. I know I would be incredibly uncomfortable to have someone on IBoard who had not gone through the experiences that they are then promoting to the order at large.

    At the end of the day, candidates are elected on the basis of their qualifications, not popularity. They still need to convince the tens of Alephs and BBG delegates who are attending IC as their first international program, as well as those who may be older and not have attended the same program as them. And like I said before, attending a program is not a guarantee that you will get the votes from that program, especially if someone else from your ILTC is running against you.

    As a possible candidate for IBoard last year, I thought long and hard about all of these things. I wasn’t guaranteed the votes from my CLTC, as I didn’t make many friends there. As I found out at IC, if I had run for IBoard, I would have been running against 3 other girls: one who went to ILTC with me, one who went to Kallah East AND CLTC with me, and one who went to ILTC and Kallah with me. So there goes all of the supposed “guaranteed” votes for all of us. This happens on the regional level as well. What happens when two chapter members run against each other for regional board? Hell, what happens on the chapter level when best friends run against each other? In the end, the best candidate usually wins, and if he or she doesn’t, the chapter probably had problems with sisterhood or fraternity before elections.

    So that’s my two cents. Is IBoard flawed? In many ways, yes. They are disconnected from the regions they are elected to serve. But it’s hard to expect high school seniors to adequately serve over 15,000 of their peers perfectly. I prefer to think of them as figureheads, resources that are there if someone does need their help, and this year’s board is doing a pretty decent job of helping.

    Changing the elections system, however, is not really fixing the problem.

  4. bebersghost Says:

    It’s important to distinguish between being a candidate and voting. Of course candidates should be experienced, should have attended both regional and international programs, and should be extremely active at all levels of BBYO. For the same reason, I wouldn’t expect to vote for a president who hasn’t already served as governor or in congress.

    What I find absurd is the thought that voters must have the same or near level of experience in order to be able to choose. By your argument only members of state legislatures should be allowed to vote for president! Our country eliminated poll taxes and other discriminatory voting systems decades ago (or at least tried to – success has varied from place to place). Now you can make an argument that only the elite should be able to vote for national office – maybe we would have done better – but so far our society has chosen otherwise.

    Perhaps if IBoard candidates had to run national campaigns, the process alone would help educate them as to what is going on around the country (and around the world). Perhaps they would become more connected to the regions if, as part of the election process, they had to engage in at least one online discussion/debate with members of that region.

    The technology exists for BBYO to involve members more widely in the political process. The technology exists to make it possible for every member to become acquainted with all of the candidates, and for the candidates to campaign as national candidates do – to “soccer moms, blacks, women, every demographic in every state” as you say (or in our case, to every region and even chapter). The technology exists to connect IBoard candidates with every region around the world, find out their needs, and campaign for their votes. Argue, if you wish, that the current elitist voting system is a good thing – but don’t pretend that it is democratic.

    The Ghost

  5. Anna Says:

    So i was thinking if there were to be electronic voting would BBYO become a Direct Democracy as far as elections go? For example I am in GMR and we only get 5 votes for the girls. Now the electronic votes wouldnt make a difference in my region if we keep the same policy because no matter what only the top 5 (aka the first 5 girls on rboard) would get a chance to vote. And Rboard is pretty much implied to go on IC anyways.

    So if we were to switch to online voting the only good thing that would come would be if every member in the order was allowed to vote. And if every member was allowed to vote (ranging from the Iboard members to the paper members) would this help or hurt the order? I mean yes it would give everyone a part to the election process of our Iboard and giving everyone a voice and a say would be good. But what about the bad effects.

    I mean look at America- the majority of American voters arent informed on the politics they vote for, they either do it because the person they vote for looks good or because of the bias news reports from the media. How would the BBYO voters decide. Would they go for the “hottest or most popular” canidate or what?

    Or maybe we should do what America does and have an electoral college where each region votes and the majority is the vote for our region. and each region gets their certian amounts of votes based on members in their region. But if that is the case are we going to have problems with the popular vote and the electoral college vote. I wouldnt want the next nsiah to win like bush won the 2000 election.

    I guess what it comes down to is, should every member get a vote, should only the highest members in BBYO get a vote (or the ones who can afford IC) or should votes be condensed by region with an electoral college?

  6. AZAleph Says:

    I’m thinking that the system is as perfect as it could possibly be. BBGLover raised some valid points, and I agree with most of them. Also, I don’t understand why we are talking about a need to change the system if the same system has always worked for all these years.

    Elections (at least international ones) are done without caucusing as to not give a unfair advantage to candidates with good communication resources, right? Also, since IC takes place in the middle of a schoolyear, some people can’t afford to waste the time right before IC without getting behind in school. I mean, someone could go to right now and create a group saying: “Vote for BBG ______ for International !”. But that won’t happen because of the no-politicking rule.

    Everything is flawed. The non-subjective people (who need to be voters in order for the elections for grand board to be fair) never became R-board members in the first place, because it was all a popularity contest. And that’s the same reason why I was not elected as chapter aleph godol last term. The people who deserve to be on grand board are not necessarily the people who are elected. Ideally, every voting aleph would do their best to be humble and virtuous as well as they could. That way, they would vote without being biased.

    I believe that all we need now is for all alephs to learn good ethics, following the 7 cardinal virtues, while having pride for everything they stand for. It’s an unrealistic dream, though, but I believe that it is more likely to be accomplished here and now in the 21st century than any other time. What are we waiting for?

  7. bebersghost Says:

    Whether the system has worked for all these years is open to debate – I’ve met some international officers who were very impressive and others… well, let’s leave it at that.
    But whether it has or not, there is no doubt that the world has changed. It is now possible an inexpensive for international candidates to engage the entire order, not just those who come to international programs and conventions. So it’s ultimately a choice – do you have faith in the ability of members to take elections seriously or not?
    Many (if not most) regional elections I’ve seen are largely popularity contests. I wonder how much of that is because of the no-politicking rule – that there is so little time and ability for members to get to know the candidates, that they have little else on which to base their decisions.
    On the other hand, the chapter elections I’ve been witness to (and there have been a lot of them) have definitely NOT been popularity contests – I have been consistently impressed by the care and thought that members placed in those decisions, and the awareness of how critical those decisions are to the well being of the chapter they care about so much.
    Your dream is not unrealistic. The very best chapters are ethical, largely follow the 7 cardinal principals, and do take pride in everything they stand for.

    The Ghost

  8. AZAleph Says:

    Do I have faith in the members of our order to to take things seriously? You bet I do! With a dedicated and informed assembly of delegates (i.e. CLTC graduates), only the best I-board would be selected.

    On another note, I myself am not sure how achievable it is, but how likely would be for the next GAGodol to be able to oversee a year in which EVERY CHAPTER IN OUR ORDER is eligible for the Henry Monsky all-around AZA chapter award? Unfortunately, I cannot see it happening. What about the one following him? And after him? We, as Jews, must draw a line somewhere. Many of us older Alephs would not have time to uphold an initiative such as this before graduating. When was the last time Grand Board members sought out AITs to help with their thrusts? New members have the longest time, so they should use it to the fullest. Somewhere, there is an Aleph who joined last spring, thinking: “What can I do to benefit the the Grand Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph?” There is plenty, but how much leadership experience could someone like that have? Little to none, in any way, shape, or form! Some already do, but every chapter needs to involve their inexperienced members. Alephs do not gain leadership experience by doing (almost) anything EXCEPT FOR hands-on planning work.

    Does any of this make sense (or did I stop mid-sentence anywhere)?


  9. bebersghost Says:

    Thank you, AZAleph, for a great post. You inspired my latest entry On Faith and Programming

    The Ghost

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