• Dale Miller-Bouton

Forward Chats - Meeting #16 - August 11, 2019


How Best to Elect the Central Board

Today’s topic was taken up at the request of the Bylaw Committee The bylaws are essentially complete, but the committee is still concerned about how best to elect the Central Board and desired advice from the congregation.

We want to create a board that is both informed and representative – a topic we have mentioned many times before, usually in connection with this chart:



Being “informed” is important, but it is not the current issue. The question today is, how do we create a board that is representative?


In the bylaw draft current as of August 11, any active member of the congregation can volunteer to be included on the ballot. Additional candidates may be encouraged by their friends, but the system does not instruct a nominating committee to present a slate for uncontested approval as is our recent practice. The current draft requires publication of candidate statements, but there has been some resistance on the bylaw committee to requiring such statements, fearing such a requirement might act as a deterrent to anybody standing at all.


If we accept anyone who volunteers – or can be bullied – to be put on the ballot, we will face one of two situations:

1. If there are more candidates than open slots, we have a contested election. Some people fear this will just be a “popularity contest,” in which only the most visible people in the congregation have a chance to serve, resulting in the same leadership year after year. Others fear it is a recipe for hurt feelings, especially if there are only 10 or 11 candidates for 9 positions.


2. But if there are fewer candidates than slots, the election has no meaning at all. Anybody who volunteers gets elected. You can’t really vote against someone. If you refuse to vote for someone, that person gets elected anyway. A board formed this way cannot be said to be representative.


Representativeness matters because we are giving the board quite a bit of power, and the congregation needs to feel that the decisions it makes are legitimate, made by people to whom the authority has been specifically and voluntarily delegated. The Central Board will also be small, maybe 5 to 9 people, so power will be much more concentrated than it is presently.


So we asked the people attending Forward Chats to brainstorm some options. Three of them made it onto the whiteboard:


(1) One alternative might be for each of the current existing Boards to recommend one or two people from among their current members to serve on the board. That could work this year, but next year, assuming the four Boards break into several smaller working teams, it would become harder. See the bylaw website for other concerns with a method which forms the board from committee representatives.


(2) Another alternative would be for each person in the congregation to nominate one person.


(3) This isn’t really a method of election, but we need more information about people we don’t know very well. It is hard to find out what expertise might be out there in the pews among people who are not already active. Sometimes it feels as if we only find out what skills and talents people had when we hear the eulogy at their funerals.


Not everybody thought that a contested election was a big deal, but even if it is acceptable, it is hard to make sure it will happen every year. It is equally – or more – likely that the system will result in an uncontested election, and any uncontested election raises questions of legitimacy.


Nancy described another option that gives every member of the congregation a list of all active members and invites them to use that list to nominate any number of (1) acceptable candidates, and (2) preferred candidates. The nominations are weighted (preferred candidates get more points than acceptable candidates) and based on the points, the member list can be sorted from highest to lowest in order of preference. Positions on the board are offered to the people at the top of the list in order, going down the list until all the open positions are filled by people willing to serve


People suggested improvements to the original idea, including encouraging filling out nomination ballots at church rather than depending on the congregation to mail them in. As a result of this helpful discussion, some details of the original idea were dropped as impractical, and more flexibility included about collecting ballots. We also agreed that our elections will be wiser if we know more about our members’ skills and experience, and that some method should be put into place to collect that information, even if that information is not as complete as we might desire in time for the first election.


Later that week, the process developed in Forward Chats was discussed by the Bylaw Committee and defined as follows:


(a) Providing information about member qualifications

The Central Board shall over the course of the year collect and maintain up-to-date information about the skills, talents and qualifications of members of the congregation, adding information about new members as they join. This information shall be made available in a way that controls for privacy so that members of the congregation can draw on it when selecting the Central Board and also when soliciting new members for working teams.


(b) Nomination process

The Central Board shall cause to be prepared and distributed a nomination form listing all the active members of the church by name, as established by the most recent census. The Board may use both paper and electronic forms as long as the process ensures that each member may submit only one form. The Board may establish a deadline for receipt (or for the postmark, in the case of mailed forms), which may be extended, if necessary, in order to receive forms from at least 15% of the active members (equal to a quorum for a meeting). All active members shall be invited to use this nomination form to indicate both:

  • A vote of confidence for all members they would be willing to acknowledge as qualified to serve on the Central Board. There is no limit to the number of names that may be checked.

  • A vote of preference for the five active members they would most like to see represent them on the board.


(c) Tally and vote

The results shall be tallied giving 1 point for each vote of confidence and 5 points for each vote of preference. The results shall be compiled according to the number of points received, from greatest to least. Starting at the top of the list, a number of people equal to the number of open positions shall be asked whether they are willing to serve. If all open slots cannot be filled from this first group, the next persons on the list, equal to the number of remaining slots, shall be asked to serve, this process being repeated until all open slots are filled. The final list of names shall be presented at the annual meeting and voted into office by acclamation.

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