Electronic Voting Shut Down for GC Session: Questions Remain
By AT News Team, July 6, 2015: Yesterday the delegates assembled in San Antonio voted to stop using the electronic voting system after repeated tests and amid speculation as to why it seemed not to work.
The electronic voting system was again tested by comparing a count of the delegates with the devices in hand to the numbers generated by delegates pushing the buttons. The steering committee (made up of GC and division officers) had decided that if the system again had more than a two percent error factor in this comparison, then it would be abandoned for the rest of this session.
The physical count was 1,737 delegates holding voting devices, conducted by staff members assigned to walk along sections and count as they looked down the rows of chairs. Karnik Doukmetzian, the chief lawyer for the GC and parliamentarian for the session, directed delegates to “wait for the clock” then “press 1 or 2” and “push it only once, push it and release it, don’t hold it for a long period.”
The electronic system reported only 1,277 votes, a difference of 460 votes or more than 26 percent. Pastor Ted Wilson, GC president, was on the platform and said, “I move that we cease any more attempts to use the electronic system.” He also stated that for “very special votes,” referring to the question on ordination among others, “I move to use the secret paper ballot as needed.”
There was a quick vote to discard the expensive electronic voting system and Doukmetzian began to give the delegates instructions on how the handheld devices would be collected, but there was a point of order from a delegate who had not been able to speak to the motion to discard the system. A delegate from the NAD asked for a division-by-division count to identify where the discrepancies are occurring, and a number of delegates applauded this suggestion.
Dr. Artur Stele, the GC vice president who was in the chair, said, “we already voted” on the question. Megen Mole, a delegate from Europe, moved to reconsider the action on the voting system because delegates had not been able to speak and points of order had not been considered. Others also objected to the quick vote to abandon the voting system and Stele replied, “Let us not use the system of points of order to destroy our work.”
Pastor Alvin Kibble, a vice president in the NAD and widely respected figure among African American Adventists, asked if there would be value in a division by division count to determine where the problem is. But when Stele took a vote on the motion to reconsider, he announced that it failed. The majority of the delegates evidently did not want to find out which delegations had discrepancies in the electronic voting.
Another delegate asked, Can we get another electronic voting system ready by tomorrow? Stele said, No. It’s not possible. The administration has already tried everything. “We looked for the best company already, and this was it. But don’t be disappointed. This is not the first GC Session … and we have always found a way to vote.”
Dr. Prudence Pollard, a professor at Oakwood University and the wife of Dr. Leslie Pollard, president of the university, asked the chairman for patience with her point of order. She suggested that there are two kinds of problems that might be involved with the failure of the electronic voting system. One could be statistical and it might require consultation with the statistician at the company to fix it. The other might be a signal problem; is the system picking up all of the transmissions from the hand-held voting devices? “We need a solution that gets to the core of the problem,” she stated.
Stele replied, “Sorry, but that wasn’t a point of order. We have already voted on that. Let us move on.”
Pastor Raymond Hartwell, president of the Pennsylvania Conference, pointed out that the microphone (“number 3”) near the NAD delegation was not working, and this had prevented a number of delegates from addressing the previous items before the votes were taken. Stele replied that he did not see anyone listed on his computer system at the podium and was told that was part of the problem; when a delegate stood at that microphone and pushed the button, it was evidently not alerting the chairman.
Pastor Elizabeth Talbot, director of the Jesus 101 media ministry, pointed out that there was no discussion prior to the vote on the motion to stop using the electronic voting system and that was a violation of parliamentary procedure. Stele responded, “I am sorry. Maybe I moved too quickly,” and reminded the assembly that they were currently discussing revisions to the Church Manual.
The problem with Microphone 3 was brought up again, later in the day, by other delegates who were experiencing difficulty in getting a chance to speak. The chairman directed to go to other microphones despite the fact that it was a five or ten-minute walk to other microphones in the massive Alamodome.
Pastor Tara VinCross, a pastor in Philadelphia who directs a training program in city evangelism for the Columbia Union Conference, said secret ballots of some kind are necessary in order for the votes taken at the GC Session to be respected. Dr. Kendra H. Valentine, a New Testament scholar in the H. M. S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University, told the delegates that as a teenager, attending a GC Session with her father, Dr. Bert Haloviak, long-time director of archives and statistics for the GC, she saw delegates instructed by a division leader to follow his lead when it came time to vote. This experience had given her wariness of any voting process where a delegate could be observed as to how he or she voted. “If we don’t vote by secret ballot, there will be questions about the outcome.”
Wilson made a statement at a point in the discussion: “You are to vote in accordance with your own conscience. You are not to vote a certain way because you were told to do so.”
The motion around which this discussion was focused was a motion to use secret ballot on all nominating committee reports. A paper ballot was used to vote on this motion, and 90 percent of the delegates voted against it.
Why would there be nearly 500 fewer votes when they are counted electronically than when they are counted by observers counting raised hands? “There is growing evidence that some divisions are manipulating the vote,” wrote Alexander Carpenter in his Twitter stream. David Hamstra pointed out that having the delegates test the system “put them in the conflict of interest the system was to solve.”
There are other issues related to the decision to scrap the electronic voting system. Because a public announcement was made that the system did not work the way it was supposed to work, there is the potential of a defamation lawsuit, a source told Adventist Today. This could do serious harm to the company and cause other organizations to cancel contracts for its services. If the chairman had gone ahead with a division by division count that would have gone a long way to prove that the machines did not work, which could avoid a lawsuit.
The concern of many delegates is that social pressure will cause large numbers to vote a certain way instead of actually making an informed decision based on a careful study of the Bible principles, Adventist heritage and the facts. Social pressure is something that Adventists have traditionally taught was wrong, “a tool of Satan.” Stories of heroes of the Adventist faith often include people who stood up against pressure from their family, employer, religious institution or cultural heritage.
Unfortunately, it can also be a confusing issue. Some speak out against “culture over the Bible” and then mistake traditional culture for Bible principles. “That old-time religion” is not automatically good just because it is old. Some elements of “old-time religion” are entirely opposed to God’s will, particularly in the estimate of Adventist pioneers such as Ellen White.
James White often said that truth is to be found with “Scripture and reason.” He believed that clear thinking and an individual conscience is necessary along with Scripture to know the true will of God. This is the concern expressed by the delegates speaking out on the procedure topics; they say they are attempting to make a space for real consideration of the issues before the 2015 GC Session instead of rushing through the rituals of decision-making to bad choices.
It will not build unity or move the Adventist denomination closer to God’s purposes to allow significant segments of the delegates to go home thinking the decisions voted in San Antonio lack integrity because of bad process. One top theologian has said that perhaps the denomination is too large and too complicated to continue to make good decisions in a context invented centuries ago. If the outcomes lack so much respect that they are dysfunctional, this could be the last large, multi-million dollar GC Session.