With all the discussions and now a poll I thought I'd draw a few threads together. These represent my own feelings and opinions and not those of my fellow committee members and definitely not the CPS.
. I accept that voting by a show of hands is unfair because not every can or wants to attend the AGM. That is a fair enough comment. But to replace it with another means of voting that equally disenfranchises another section of the membership is also equally unfair and for that reason I have to oppose voting by email or via this forum. Not everyone has email access or there are some members who through choice or personal circumstances don't even have a computer. That's hard to believe possibly' but it is true!
Therefore I have to rule out voting purely by electronic means. Voting by post is the obvious option. It is the lowest common denominator since presumably everyone has access to a stamp and a letter box. It is simple to administer - we can send out voting slips along with society publications. And it is easy to track and verify. If anyone wanted to challenge the system all we need do is show them the voting slips. We can also do the vote anonmymously and put in some very simple systems to prevent attempts at voting more than once. Someone suggested that votes would need to be counted by someone independant, which is plainly ludicrous. To be honest, if you think we are going to fiddle the system in our favour you have a very low opinion of us and I think you should either vote us all out or just find another plant society.
The other suggestion of a combination of a postal and electronic voting system is interesting but I can't quite see how it can be administered simply. Would we have to register a member as an e-voter or a postal one (that can be done of course) and how do we deal with the situation for instance where someone can't vote electronically because of an Internet or computer failure? I'm not ruliing it out but I'm not convinced since it just seems to be adding another tier of bureaucracy. I know that we keep saying this but you have to remember that we are not professionals. We do this in whatever spare time we happen to have!
Looking on the poll at the moment I'm quite surprised that no one has voted for postal voting alone. It's simple, relatively easy to administer and it can be verified very easily. Sure it's a little more difficult to find a pen and mark a X in a box and stick it in the post when compared to a few clicks of a mouse. I may have this wrong but I seem to remember that the ICPS have elections for their board by postal ballot.
Elections of committee members.
This brings another issue that I'd like to investigate. In every year that I recall, the CPS committee have been elected unopposed. Now there may be many reasons for this such as us lot not advertising the posts properly (I only throw that one in, I'm not offering an opinion here). I suspect though that the real reason we are never opposed is that for one reason or another, not one else is interested in the job. I can remember just one instance in my twenty odd years of committee where we had more than one candidate for a position on the committee. And there are multiple instances where jobs go unfilled for a long time because we are unable to get anyone willing to take them on. In my case for instance I first become Newsletter Editor because no one else wanted the job. I then took on Membership when the current membership secretary dropped out, because no one else wanted the job. I then passed membership over to Dennis and later took on the journal again when we lost our then current journal editor though it was agreed that this would be temporary until we got someone else in to do the job. It took two years before Tim offered to take over! And now I am General Secretary because this post had been vacant for quite a few years and we could get no one to fill the post. I've been trying to remember how long the secretary's post was vacant for and I think it was at least five years despite advertising in the newsletter, the society website and presumably this forum.
So can you see a trend here? If you think that having elections by ballot of any description will give you a choice of who to vote for then in almost every case you will be disapointed. Unless of course there is a seachange in the attitude of most members. Whether this is through general apathy or just a lack of talented people willing to give up their spare time I don't know. But I can't see it changing and indeed it's the same on every other club or society committee that I've served on.
So how do we deal with voting for a committee member who is unopposed? Well in just about every other election that I have come across you don't vote for an unopposed candidate. They are elected by default because there is no one else to stand against them. In fact the only way you can vote against an unopposed committee post is to have a Yes/No vote, which is effectively a vote of confidence. Now I am not against this as such since I think a committee member would have to do pretty badly to warrant over 50% of the membership voting him or her off. But it's a pretty poor way of running a society. Even a poorly performing committee member is better than none at all. And if it's not possible to drum up enough enthusiasm to stand against a poorly performing committee person what hope is there of replacing him or her? And in fact the committee is all too aware when one of us is not doing their bit and we can and do step in before it ever gets to the point of elections anyway.
And there is a further problem with voting off people from the committee which has very serious consequences potentially for the society. If the membership vote off a crucial committee post - say for instance the treasurer, then the society is going to have extreme difficulty functioning. Vote off the journal editor and you don't get a journal. Vote off the entire committee and you effectively close the society down. Possibly I'm being a bit melodramatic here and I accept that it's very unlikely that any committee member would actually be voted off the committee (Vic can't vote fortunately!) but this is the sort of thing that we have to consider.
So undemocratic as it may seem, I am in favour of electing any committee post that is unopposed by default, so effectively without voting. How does that grab you? My hazy memory of the ICPS elections is that positions on the board are elected not every year but over several years and that there are always, or almost always at least two candidates to vote for.
Next item - selection of committee candidates and/or members.
As I've already said, we have the greatest difficulty persuading anyone to take on committee roles. It's not as if we are stuck for choices here! And for that reason the committee has always had the option to suggest candidates either within the committee itself or from outside. A committee post has two functions. There is the job for which you are elected for (membership, journal etc) and then there is the general management of the CPS role. This takes two forms - we meet two or three times a year for a committee meeting, which is extremely useful for thrashing things out and getting reports etc. And then there is day to day management which takes place by email. I helped introduce a system where we could vote by email on some issues so that we didn't have to wait for a full committee meeting to take a vote and make a decision. This has introduced a further dynamic to the committee which means we can respond quickly where we need to. Well that's my opinion anyway! All this is preamble to introduce the idea that as a committee I think that we need to check any potential candidates and approve them before submitting them for election. If nothing else this is to make sure that the candidate has a certain level of committment. For instance we've had people on the committee in the past with no email access, which makes communications rather difficult. But being on the committee is not just about doing a certain job. We want committee members who will take an active management role and personally, I think that it only fair to let potential committee members know what they are letting themselves in for. I have no doubt that this will be construed as being undemocratic and if that's the case then so be it. I don't think democracy means that anyone can stand for any post unless they are willing to show a level of commitment to carry out their job.
As part of the selection I'd like to see any candidate providing a small piece detailing how they intend to carry out the post, and what if anything they think they can add to the role. That applies to people who put themselves forward either in opposition to an existing committee post or who are applying for a vacant one. It also should apply to any committee person who the committee seek to bring in. It's a bit of an exercise but to be frank, if someone can't come up with something of this nature then they are unlikely to have much time and energy for the post they are intending to occupy anyway. And why should we ask this? Well quite apart from trying to find out if the candidate is up to the job, we need to present something on the voting form for the membership to use to make a decision about when voting. This is what happens with the ICPS board elections. There is a brief piece of probably no more than 50 words detailing experience and specialist skills and what the person intends to do if elected. There would be deadlines of course - probably one or two months before the election took place.
One other point. The committee has always had the option of co-opting people to take on roles mid-term as it were. There are pure practicalities here. There are certain roles on the committee that are crucial for the society to operate. I list just as a few roles that of seedbank, membership and treasurer, though I'm sure my fellow committee members can list plenty more. It makes no sense to lumber through an election process mid-term which can take months if these jobs need doing. Obviously someone else on the committee will usually jump in and take over temporarily but this is less than ideal. None of us has much free time to do our own jobs let along someone else's. So we can and will co-opt a member to a committee post unelected. Again, if this seems undemocratic then I make no appologies. Pragmatism has to take over at some point! I think it fair though to offer up the position for proposals from the membership at the relevant time and so any co-opted member of the committee effectively takes the role on as a temporary post. That's possibly unfair to the person offering to do the job but it does seem relatively democratic.
The question then arises about what do about the case where a vacant position has only one candidate, which of course takes me full circle back to my original point! Do we elect someone unopposed by default. Do we offer them to the vote or do we seek from somewhere an alternative candidate? The latter option of bringing someone or anyone in as an alternative candidate seems to me to be fraught with difficulties. It's hard enough to persuade people to stand for committee but to persuade them to stand in opposition to someone else?
I'm in favour of offering even an unnoposed new committee post for election despite my misgivings about only having one person to vote for simply because getting a vote does give them some sort of mandate from the membership. But it's hardly ideal is it? Election by default if unopposed is the other option and while I'm not exactly keen on this idea either it does seem to have some logical simplicity.
My last comment is that I hope you can see that we do put a lot of thought into what we do on the committee! It's so easy to sit at your keyboard and type something onto a forum but it's way more difficult to think through the consequences of any decision you make because we have to try to get it right first time. That's not open criticism and indeed this whole topic of how and why we have committee elections is a very good discussion to have. We've always said that the society is run by the committee but we always listen to comments from the membership. That doesn't mean you should all assume that we will act according to how the membership here think we should do of course. Neither should you assume that just because we don't comment from time to time that it means we aren't listening.
And of course! if anyone out there really does think that they have some good ideas about where to take the CPS please consider joining as a general member of the committee. General members are different in that they have no specific role on the committee but they do take part in the managment role.
And my final final point is that I'm sorry that this is so long a post! If I could condense this all down to half a dozen words I would.