During a House Committee meeting back in July 2010 (before an election lawsuit was filed) someone raised concerns about the last election and in particular, the role of the election inspectors. I thought that our inspectors–residents who volunteer for this community service have always been well-meaning and have taken their responsibilities seriously. And while their role could be better clarified, the problem wasn’t with them but with the lack of clearly understood and broadly disseminated guidelines for our electoral process.
Having been involved with voter education programs leading up to the first democratic election in South Africa, and having been an election observer in other national elections overseas (with The Carter Center) and having worked on electoral processes in UN-run, post-war elections in Africa, I volunteered to draw up some guidelines for our observers/inspectors to help clarify their rights and responsibilities; and as a necessary correlate to this, help make the electoral process more transparent by putting much of it into the hands of a resident sub-committee on elections rather than in the hands of the coop BOD. This would avoid any perception or accusation (rightly or wrongly), of conflict of interest. Another member of the House Committee, long-term Washington Street resident and neighbor Charlie Weissman, who’s served as a WVH election inspector in previous WVH elections, and I have been working together on this for several months. Charlie’s been researching polling companies and will have more to say on that down the road. We think it’s especially important that we have a clear process this year as we are moving away from cumulative voting in 2011 and any new process is likely to demand more attention and greater clarification.
What issues have we identified at WVH?
– Community-wide confusion about what election inspection consists of (scope of mandate)
– Lack of confidence by some in the community in the election process
– Insufficient understanding of electoral processes (ie, weighted/cumulative voting, tabulationing process, etc.)
A WVH Election Observer/Inspector handbook
We have developed a draft “WVH Election Observer/Inspector Handbook” based on several gold-standard sources like the OSCE Handbook of election observation, The Carter Center, and the 2005 Declaration of Principles for Election Observation and Code of Conduct of Election Observers, as well as our bylaws and the New York Business Corporation Law. The purpose of this is to have a shared understanding of what election inspectors are responsible for.
Please read the handbook here https://westvillagewatchdog.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/wvh-election-observation-handbook-jan-2011.pdf and send us your comments to help make it better (or download the word document and send tracked edits) to Tatiana at email@example.com.
What’s the purpose of election observation/monitoring?
– Build confidence in an electoral process by increasing transparency/voter education at each stage of the process
– Provide an impartial assessment of the electoral process
– Where relevant, provide recommendations for ways to improve the process in future elections
It’s a process, not an event
Because an election is a political process that unfolds over time, election observation/monitoring is not limited to the day of voting. Typically, election observation begins earlier in the electoral process to evaluate election preparations, observe/assist in voter education efforts, and monitor the openness and conduct of campaigns. Information is collected through various means, including meetings with election officials, candidates, and others involved in the electoral process.
In international election monitoring, it’s customary to have long-term observers (a few months) who monitor the campaign, ballot design, candidate registration, etc. and then short-term observers (a couple of weeks/days) who monitor the actual voting day and the vote count/tabulation process. Having both is important because it ensures that the process itself leading up to election day is transparent and if necessary, corrected along the way to build confidence in the results. What good is monitoring the day of the vote only if some candidates were incorrectly prevented from getting their names on the ballot? Or if some candidates were blocked from distributing their campaign materials? Or if voters aren’t quite sure how to vote? Having election inspectors on voting day only is better than not having any inspectors at all, but we can do better than that.
Why we recommend a shareholder-run Election Sub-Committee
In addition to the observer Handbook, Charlie and I have recommended to the House Committee and the coop BOD to form an election sub-committee of the House Committee. This election sub-committee would be tasked with vetting ballot companies and recommending one of them to the BOD (only the coop BOD can sign contracts on behalf of WVH); and then with running much of the electoral process—from helping to design the ballot, to hosting meet and greets, to putting together voter education materials, to training election inspectors. In short, we think that much of this should be taken off the coop BOD’s plate to avoid any perceived conflict of interest and to build confidence in the process going forward.
Who would be able to serve on an Election Sub-Committee?
- The election sub-committee would consist of at least 3 resident shareholders and be elected by the House Committee between January-March of each year
- Relatives/partners/roommates of BOD members or election candidates would not be eligible to serve on the election sub-committee
(NB: As my partner, Maureen, is currently on the coop BOD, once this is approved and a new election sub-committee constituted, yours truly will step off this assignment).
What would an Election Sub-Committee be responsible for?
- Vet commercial polling companies and make a recommendation to the HC/BOD/managing agent
- Develop and publicize the January-June electoral timetable in consultation with the HC/BOD and managing agent
- Ensure clear, written guidelines for observers/monitors
- Draft and disseminate voter education materials to shareholders in advance of the election and throughout the electoral process
- Coordinate with the HC/BOD and managing agent to ensure that information about the electoral process (ie, timetable, sample ballot, observation mandates) is distributed early and widely to minimize confusion, disqualified ballots, and contested results
- Organize and host at least one election Q&A early in the year and two meet & greets with candidates during the electoral process
- Design the ballot in consultation with polling company
- Recruit at least 2 election observers among shareholders at the first election Q&A so that observers can be properly trained and can monitor the election process, not just voting day
- Ensure that there are clear ground rules for disqualifying ballots
- Ensure that any eligible shareholder who wishes to run has equal access to election materials and distribution mechanisms, and that election campaign is conducted fairly and professionally
- Ensure that there is a clearly articulated process for filing complaints about the conduct and results of the election, and that this process is made available to all shareholders at the start of the electoral process.
When’s all this supposed to happen and how do I have some input?
I’m hoping that we can have an election sub-committee and an observer Handbook ready to go after the March 2011 House Committee meeting but final drafts will need to be approved by the coop BOD. So far this has been discussed at HC meetings and it will be on the agenda again for the next HC meeting (Feb 22, 6pm). Please join us if you can. You can also post your comments here or send your edits/comments to the Handbook and proposed sub-committee to Tatiana at firstname.lastname@example.org.