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!