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Announcing vote totals for elections


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Our organization had officer elections tonight. I seem to recall RONR stating explicitly that under no circumstances should the reading of the tellers' report, including vote totals, be omitted in presenting the results of an election. Nevertheless, the chairman of tellers (who is also the President) refused to announce the vote totals, fearing that this could be upsetting to members who lost resoundingly (it's also not our custom to announce the totals). I was presiding and decided this was not a battle I wanted to fight tonight, so I asked if there was unanimous consent to suspend the requirement that vote totals be announced, and there was no objection. (Our bylaws do require the vote totals to be retained and made available to any member who asks.)

Why does RONR insist that it is a good idea to announce vote totals? If there's no good argument for why it should be done, I'm inclined to agree with the chairman of tellers—but I can't imagine the A-team putting in their admonition without a good reason for doing so. Separately, is it in order to suspend the rule requiring vote totals to be announced, as we did tonight?

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Indeed it is the proper thing to do, to read out the numerical vote results for the members to hear -- see p. 417, line 18 ff. - and to include them in the minutes

 

Consider some possibilities:

 

1)  The winner got nearly all the votes and the loser has had a long history of fruitlessly running for office.  Reading the vote count might send him a message, that it is time to quit making a fool of himself.

 

2)  The vote is "reasonably" close.  This way the loser will be encouraged to try again, as it seems, by the vote, that he has a good deal of potential, and many friends, but just went up against a better person this time.  This may help to keep a good candidate in the game.

 

3)  The vote is "extremely" close - one or two votes different.  The assembly may very well want to order a recount (RONR p. 419, line 1, see index also) just to be sure of the result.  This way there are no (or fewer) hard feelings.

 

4)   The president, when declaring who won, makes a simple mistake and names the wrong person, or he does not understand the vote required to adopt the motion (majority, 2/3, &c.) and states the "wrong" outcome.

 

5)   The tellers make an error.  Reading the results out loud may not help to catch this but studying the printed documentation  in the minutes at leisure probably would.  The documentation would also serve as evidence if there were serious questions about the outcome.

 

Without the teller having read the numbers, how will anybody (except the teller, if he is paying attention) know to correct this?

 

6)   The winner of the election (or partisans of the winning side of a critical issue) could weigh the numerical results in terms of whether they have a "mandate" to proceed at full bore, or whether there might be some fence mending to look after first.

 

If the vote results were not made immediately available to the membership, none of the above good things could happen.

 

And this listing doesn't even mention the myriad possibilities for knavery or outright fraud that are available when vote counts are kept secret.

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8 hours ago, Alex M. said:

Separately, is it in order to suspend the rule requiring vote totals to be announced, as we did tonight?

 

43 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

Yes, but it is a very bad idea.

In my opinion (and just generally speaking), whenever the bylaws require that a vote be taken by ballot it is not in order to move to suspend the rule that the vote totals be announced. This is because announcement of the vote totals is an essential element of a ballot vote.

This general principle may or may not be applicable in this particular instance.

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34 minutes ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

In my opinion (and just generally speaking), whenever the bylaws require that a vote be taken by ballot it is not in order to move to suspend the rule that the vote totals be announced. This is because announcement of the vote totals is an essential element of a ballot vote.

This general principle may or may not be applicable in this particular instance.

I remember your opinion on this matter from a couple/few years back in response to an opinion rendered by the parliamentary research team (which I was a member of back then) in the National Parliamentarian and have been quite content to accept it ever since.  The discussion of this matter was quite illuminating.

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12 hours ago, Alex M. said:

Our organization had officer elections tonight. I seem to recall RONR stating explicitly that under no circumstances should the reading of the tellers' report, including vote totals, be omitted in presenting the results of an election. Nevertheless, the chairman of tellers (who is also the President) refused to announce the vote totals, fearing that this could be upsetting to members who lost resoundingly (it's also not our custom to announce the totals). I was presiding and decided this was not a battle I wanted to fight tonight, so I asked if there was unanimous consent to suspend the requirement that vote totals be announced, and there was no objection. (Our bylaws do require the vote totals to be retained and made available to any member who asks.)

Why does RONR insist that it is a good idea to announce vote totals? If there's no good argument for why it should be done, I'm inclined to agree with the chairman of tellers—but I can't imagine the A-team putting in their admonition without a good reason for doing so. Separately, is it in order to suspend the rule requiring vote totals to be announced, as we did tonight?

Yes, RONR states that the totals are to be included in the teller's report, and read twice* before the result is announced.  It's not just a "good idea", it's a rule, which should "under no circumstances" be omitted.    And the argument against it, specifically rejected in the rule, is a "mistaken deference" to the feelings of the losing candidates. 

If the totals are omitted in the report, the chair has no basis upon which to determine the results.  The tellers committee has no authority to determine who has won, but only to report vote totals.  It is the chair, upon interpreting those totals, who announces who is elected.  How, then, were you able to determine the winners?

I'm not sure how "under no circumstances" squares with being a suspendible rule, but I agree with Mr. Honemann that this is an integral part of a ballot vote, and if the bylaws mandate a ballot vote, then they mandate the proper announcement of totals, which may not be suspended.

__________
* Once by the reporting teller, who reads the totals but not the result, and again by the chair, who thereafter does announce the result.

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3 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

In my opinion (and just generally speaking), whenever the bylaws require that a vote be taken by ballot it is not in order to move to suspend the rule that the vote totals be announced. This is because announcement of the vote totals is an essential element of a ballot vote.

This general principle may or may not be applicable in this particular instance.

I appreciate this clarification, and upon review of the full thread on this subject, I agree.

So I suppose my new response is “No if the bylaws require a ballot vote for the election. Otherwise, yes, but it is a very bad idea.”

21 minutes ago, Gary Novosielski said:

Yes, RONR states that the totals are to be included in the teller's report, and read twice* before the result is announced.  It's not just a "good idea", it's a rule, which should "under no circumstances" be omitted.    And the argument against it, specifically rejected in the rule, is a "mistaken deference" to the feelings of the losing candidates. 

If the totals are omitted in the report, the chair has no basis upon which to determine the results.  The tellers committee has no authority to determine who has won, but only to report vote totals.  It is the chair, upon interpreting those totals, who announces who is elected.  How, then, were you able to determine the winners?

We are told that in this instance, the President (who presumably is also the chairman of the assembly) and the chairman of tellers are the same person, so it seems that the chairman of the assembly did have the information needed to declare the result. I still agree that it is highly problematic not to announce the full results for many other reasons, as Dr. Stackpole has noted.

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2 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

I appreciate this clarification, and upon review of the full thread on this subject, I agree.

So I suppose my new response is “No if the bylaws require a ballot vote for the election. Otherwise, yes, but it is a very bad idea.”

We are told that in this instance, the President (who presumably is also the chairman of the assembly) and the chairman of tellers are the same person, so it seems that the chairman of the assembly did have the information needed to declare the result. I still agree that it is highly problematic not to announce the full results for many other reasons, as Dr. Stackpole has noted.

But we are also told that the President was not presiding at the time this occurred (though we are not told why not).

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15 minutes ago, Gary Novosielski said:

But we are also told that the President was not presiding at the time this occurred (though we are not told why not).

Oh, that is interesting.

Well, one hopes that the results were shared at least with the chairman, although if this was not the case, I quite agree that it was extremely improper for the chairman to declare the result of the election when even the chairman himself was not aware of the count.

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Oh dear, this is a lot! I'll pick out a few things:

32 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

We are told that in this instance, the President (who presumably is also the chairman of the assembly) and the chairman of tellers are the same person, so it seems that the chairman of the assembly did have the information needed to declare the result. I still agree that it is highly problematic not to announce the full results for many other reasons, as Dr. Stackpole has noted.

29 minutes ago, Gary Novosielski said:

But we are also told that the President was not presiding at the time this occurred (though we are not told why not).

11 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

Oh, that is interesting.

Well, one hopes that the results were shared at least with the chairman, although if this was not the case, I quite agree that it was extremely improper for the chairman to declare the result of the election when even the chairman himself was not aware of the count.

The bylaws give me the title of Parliamentarian, though in truth that's a misnomer for my actual job. Among my duties is to preside at officer elections. In past elections (before I entered office), the chairman of tellers would quietly tell the presiding officer the vote tally, and the presiding officer would announce the result without repeating the vote tally. In this election, the President/chairman of tellers took it upon himself to announce the winners. That was another one of those moments where I decided it wasn't worth it to get in a rules fight right then and there, though I'll probably review the procedures with the President before our endorsement meeting next week, which is done by ballot as well.

I also happen to have been elected President (taking office in a couple of weeks, as the bylaws prescribe), so the election of my successor will likely proceed differently than this one.

4 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

In my opinion (and just generally speaking), whenever the bylaws require that a vote be taken by ballot it is not in order to move to suspend the rule that the vote totals be announced. This is because announcement of the vote totals is an essential element of a ballot vote.

This general principle may or may not be applicable in this particular instance.

What circumstances would make it inapplicable?

37 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

So I suppose my new response is “No if the bylaws require a ballot vote for the election. Otherwise, yes, but it is a very bad idea.”

The bylaws do require a ballot in all contested races (of which there were several).

12 hours ago, jstackpo said:

1)  The winner got nearly all the votes and the loser has had a long history of fruitlessly running for office.  Reading the vote count might send him a message, that it is time to quit making a fool of himself.

2)  The vote is "reasonably" close.  [...]

3)  The vote is "extremely" close - one or two votes different.  [...]

There seems to be one case missing: that of a member who is well-respected within the organization, but goes up against another well-respected candidate and loses decisively. That happened in the first contested race of the evening (it was about a 90%–10% split), and I think that was why the chairman of tellers refused to read out the ballot tally. It was probably to avoid humiliating the losing candidate, out of what RONR describes as "mistaken deference", but if I'm going to convince people (especially last night's tellers) that the deference was mistaken, I need to fully understand why it was mistaken.

As the bylaws chairman (another facet of my strange role in this organization), I discussed that the rules require ballot tallies to be read aloud. There was no opposition to that within the committee or during floor consideration (which I also presided over, as the bylaws require... just go with it), but I suspect that the tellers' hearts changed upon seeing an actual example of a lopsided tally.

 

Thanks, everyone.

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I'll add: this organization has been functioning under a very strange amalgamation of customs and practices for as long as I've been in it. As "Parliamentarian" (see above for why it's in air quotes), if I threw a fit every time we violated some paragraph of RONR, I'd lose all my legitimacy. I've focused on speaking up when people's rights are clearly being violated or when there's a clear potential to improve the efficiency of business.

But "because RONR says so" and "because the bylaws say so" are not persuasive arguments in this society, and never have been except when something written in the bylaws comports with someone's agenda. Still, the society manages to function, and I've mostly succeeded at protecting what I see as the core accountability elements of RONR and our bylaws. But that makes it even harder to argue solely from the vantage point that some rule is written in a 669-page book that nobody but me and the Parliamentarian-elect owns a copy of, even though that book happens to be the adopted parliamentary authority of our society. If I'm going to succeed in having vote totals announced at officer elections, I need a more persuasive argument than "RONR says so", even though I wish that were all I needed.

Edited by Alex M.
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4 hours ago, Alex M. said:

If I'm going to succeed in having vote totals announced at officer elections, I need a more persuasive argument than "RONR says so", even though I wish that were all I needed.

It seems to me that Dr. Stackpole's list makes a pretty persuasive argument. If that isn't persuasive enough, I don't know what would be.

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3 hours ago, Weldon Merritt said:

It seems to me that Dr. Stackpole's list makes a pretty persuasive argument. If that isn't persuasive enough, I don't know what would be.

Fair enough. I'm still not convinced I can get over the tellers' instinct to not announce in lopsided races with multiple worthwhile candidates, as I discussed above.

Hopefully people see the value in the other transparency-related aspects, though. But I brought up similar points in bylaws committee and in floor consideration of our bylaws revision—and everyone seemed to agree with them, until the tellers had a lopsided report in their hands and refused to fulfill their duty to read it aloud to the assembly.

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26 minutes ago, Alex M. said:

Fair enough. I'm still not convinced I can get over the tellers' instinct to not announce in lopsided races with multiple worthwhile candidates, as I discussed above.

Hopefully people see the value in the other transparency-related aspects, though. But I brought up similar points in bylaws committee and in floor consideration of our bylaws revision—and everyone seemed to agree with them, until the tellers had a lopsided report in their hands and refused to fulfill their duty to read it aloud to the assembly.

The next time this happens (if it does), raise a Point of Order that the totals must be read. If the chair rules the point not well taken, appeal the ruling. That will put the decision in the hands of the assembly. Perhaps your arguments in favor of the appeal will be persuasive enough. But if not, and the assembly fails to overturn the chair's ruling, there isn't much else you can do from a parliamentary standpoint.

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On 12/5/2019 at 11:26 PM, Alex M. said:

Fair enough. I'm still not convinced I can get over the tellers' instinct to not announce in lopsided races with multiple worthwhile candidates, as I discussed above.

Hopefully people see the value in the other transparency-related aspects, though. But I brought up similar points in bylaws committee and in floor consideration of our bylaws revision—and everyone seemed to agree with them, until the tellers had a lopsided report in their hands and refused to fulfill their duty to read it aloud to the assembly.

The tellers report should be in writing, per the example in RONR.   Whether they read it or not, they should hand it to the chair, who can ensure that it is read, and included in the minutes.

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On 12/7/2019 at 9:57 AM, jstackpo said:

And keep in mind:  if the tellers do read the report, they (or the reporting teller) do NOT declare who won the individual races.  That is the chairman's job.

Quite correct.  In fact the tellers' report does not have a place to indicate the winners, only the vote counts, and a line for the number needed to elect (a majority). 

If multiple offices are voted for on one ballot, there will potentially be a different majority number for different offices if not all members cast every possible vote for every office.

Edited by Gary Novosielski
stike words as indicated.
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I certainly disagree with the idea the members have a right to know the vote totals, or any other violation of p. 251.  I conclude that the motion to suspend that rule was in order.  I am agreement that it is extremely bad idea to suspend the rules for this purpose.

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On 12/5/2019 at 2:44 PM, Josh Martin said:

Oh, that is interesting.

Well, one hopes that the results were shared at least with the chairman, although if this was not the case, I quite agree that it was extremely improper for the chairman to declare the result of the election when even the chairman himself was not aware of the count.

Yes, it's clear the presiding officer was informed somehow of at least who the winner was, if not the count--perhaps by a whispered comment from the reporting teller.  

My point was that if the rules are formally followed, the chair would not have such information, so even if the rules were suspended (and "under no conditions" should they be) to permit omitting the announcement, the chair, at the very least should have a full tellers report.  

Another question would be whether the rule requiring the full report to be entered in the minutes is a suspendible one, and whether, in this instance, it was suspended.

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