Electronic Devices Will Change Voting at General Conference Session

(Spectrumbot) #1

Delegates to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s General Conference Session in July won’t hold up yellow cards to vote as they have in past Sessions. Instead, for the first time, Session delegates will vote by pressing a button on an electronic voting device.

Votes will be tallied instantly, and final results will be displayed in a bar chart on a screen.

Church officials say the use of technology will bring greater accuracy to votes and offer anonymity, potentially relieving some of the pressure some people may feel to vote a certain way.

“Technology impacts our lives in many ways, and we’re continually looking for ways in which technology can improve our systems for GC Session,” said Myron Iseminger, undersecretary of the Adventist world church.

Church officials at the denomination’s world headquarters used an electronic voting system at Annual Council at the denomination’s in October. There, hundreds of church officials voted via their own remote device. By taking the system to Session in San Antonio, Texas, Church leaders will make it available to the denomination’s largest governing body—a group of nearly 2,600 delegates.

Iseminger says the new system is more efficient. In past Sessions, votes were tallied by officials counting how many delegates held up their voting card, which took time. Sensitive votes were conducted by secret ballot, which took even longer.

Iseminger, who has worked as a Church administrator in several world regions, said the electronic system will also help people from cultures who face the conundrum between following their convictions and following their regional leader.

“I think in many cultures delegates are caught in a difficult spot because, on one hand, we encourage them to prayerfully vote their conscience, but on the other hand, showing respect to their local leader sitting nearby is also very important,” Iseminger said. “We hope that particular pressure will be removed this time.”

“We want to be transparent and fair, and I think this is a great step forward,” he added.

Session officials will rent several thousands of remote voting devices from a company that will also administer the process.

The denomination’s Inter-American Division, based in Miami, Florida, is acquiring its own voting system, and some local administrative units in North America have used electronic voting for more than a decade.

Max C. Torkelsen, president of the North Pacific Union Conference, based in Ridgefield, Washington, said electronic voting shows exactly how many people are participating in each vote, and it also affirms delegates that their vote was indeed counted.

Torkelsen served as president of the union’s Upper Columbia Conference when electronic voting was implemented there in the late 1990s. The transition away from voting cards and voice votes led to more “credibility” of the process he said, particularly for people who voted against an item that passed. “They know their vote was counted,” he said.

Constituency meeting leaders can also use electronic polling to learn how an audience feels about a discussion, even when there isn’t a vote on the floor, Torkelsen said.

About the only thing even slightly controversial about electronic voting was that it cost money. Some systems can cost several thousand dollars. But Torkelsen says he thinks the expense was worth it “from the very first time.”

“It raises people’s level of confidence of the vote,” he said.

He said the nearby Oregon Conference now owns an electronic voting system and rents it out to other conferences for their own constituency meetings.

General Conference Session begins July 2 and runs through July 11.

Title Image: Adventist Church Undersecretary Myron Iseminger holds a remote voting device that will be used at General Conference Session in July. Gone are the yellow voting cards that were used in past Sessions. [photo: Ansel Oliver]

This article from the Adventist News Network was written by Ansel Oliver, former ANN News Editor.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6727

(Rohan Charlton) #2

This really is an excellent idea.


It ought to end the debate of whether the vote was fair or not.

(Andre Goncalves) #4

This might be a bigger player (or the biggest player) in how the voting will go on hot topics, since certain Divisions have traditionally voted en bloc and now don’t have to do so. This is great news!

(jeremy) #5

this electronic vote may end up facilitating wo…i’m gathering traditional voting would have facilitated lemming voting, since delegates may not relish voting against their leaders with their leaders’ knowledge…

(Peter Marks) #6

Some who are familiar with those Divisions that have traditionally voted en bloc suggest that it will not make as much difference as one could imagine. According to this educated theory, it is almost a matter of faith to vote the way the Union or Division Presidents vote. The lemmings will still be lemmings. Thus it is of the essence to inform such Presidents.

Two things will likely make as great a difference to the vote on Women’s ordination as any electronic voting. Firstly, how the vote is introduced on the floor of the session of vital significance. Secondly, the amount of lobbying on either side of the issue before July and at the Session before the vote. From where I sit the Naysayers seem to be greatly more organized in getting their message through than the Yes people. But then I sit in a backwater, though I have my ear to the ground.


And if it fails, I’m sure we can ask Macgyver to turn those voting thingamajigs into electric shavers or something.


(Steve Mga) #8

Will there STILL be a sense of Guilt, a sense of being Disloyal in these voting block areas among delegates if they secretly vote against their leader’s directives?

(Thomas J Zwemer) #9

who gets to vote is more important to the out come than how the vote is taken, yet I am happy for the improvement.
Years ago, I was sent to represent my university president. The first call of business was to introduce all the new faces. then the critical issues came up for a vote. the senior university president changed his seat to be next to me. he began to lobby me on each issue… He would always vote first and then poke me in the ribs.As a Z my vote came last. I seldom voted the way the poke was intended. He was big city and I was small town, we had different world views. Tom Z

(Andre Goncalves) #10

I’m not sure which Divisions you have in mind, but I honestly don’t think that your hypothesis is correct. Most people that I know (and I did work for more than 14 years in one of those Divisions) have their own opinions, but don’t make them public because of survival instincts and not loyalty. Therefore the idea of lemmings as a generalization might be a little off. There will always be the real lemmings who have no opinion of their own, but most do what is told because of possible “dire consequences”, which are very real. With the assurance of an anonymous vote (and it’s very important to make that abundantly clear) the idea of a block instantly crumbles.
I do agree, though, that the way the vote will be introduced will influence strongly, especially if the idea of fragmentation is cast and nobody else has the chance to give a well construed different view. Nobody wants to be part of a vote that fragmented the denomination.

(Andre Goncalves) #11

Not that I am aware of.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #12

[quote=“petersomerset, post:6, topic:8093”]
it is almost a matter of faith to vote the way the Union or Division Presidents vote. The lemmings will still be lemmings. Thus it is of the essence to inform such Presidents.[/quote]
Peter Marks, you’re spot on the basically unchanged reality of bloc voting. However, I question that informing union & division presidents will do much good. Some, at least, want the lemmings to follow. Even if they don’t, it’d take a lot more to break through ingrained cultural patterns of loyalty to leadership which have become spiritualized in the church. I think this may take years.

Exactly. The introduction controls the vote. And, I believe it’s fair to understand that Ted Wilson controls that introduction regardless of who voices it at the session.

The GC should have taken the lead in making sure that the church is well informed on the vote & its implications. It’s not something that can be achieved at the session itself. The fact that there’s not been any such effort—except to point people to read the conflicting TOSC studies—means that the Naysayers are being supported.

(George Tichy) #13

I wonder if every device will be actually given to a known person, so behind the scenes the “technicians” will be able to identify everyone’s vote.
Has anything been said about it, assuring that there will actually be a 100% guaranteed confidentiality?

(Carolyn Parsons) #14

The basic technology is not sophisticated. The only way to ensure that no one is stuffing the ballot boxes is the know how many delegates are present and every delegate registering a vote even if it just to abstain or register none of the above. Then the votes need to add up to the number of known delegates.

For a very sophisticated actor, I am sure there are many nefarious things that can be done. The tech people need to secure the vote server so it can’t be hacked and the votes altered. Since the votes are immediately displayed, it would take a sophisticated system to intercept, change and send the new information along without slowing it down.

So there are procedural and technical things that can be done to ensure a fair vote.

(Carolyn Parsons) #15

I believe each of the devices have a “hardware ID” a unique code to eliminate double votes. I am not sure, but there may be a way to take the data and trace particular votes to particular units. If the particular units are assigned to particular delegate, there can be a way to trace the vote to a particular person.

(Randle Patrick) #16

I predict there will be an Amazing VoteGate.

Where the total votes against will exceed the total delegate count.

Then a VoteGate committee will be formed to report in 2020.

(George Tichy) #17

Hey, another prophet on the block? I was not prepared for competition… :wink:

The best evidence of the integrity of this system will be what will happen after the meetings. If too many people are promoted, and too many are demoted, … hmmm, one will wonder whether it is in any way connected to their “secret” electronic vote… Will see!

(le vieux) #18

We used these devices at our last constituency meeting. Every delegate gets one; it saves a lot of time, and there is no question as to the result of the vote, which appears instantly on the screen up front. But no one can tell who voted for what (except the hidden camera in the ceiling, of course :wink: ). And if you don’t return it at the end of the session, you have to pay for it. I think it was around $200. I was very careful that they got my name as I handed mine back to them. From the picture it looks like it is the same device. As I recall, there are 3 options: yes, no, abstain. But, from the looks of the gadget, many other options are available, depending on what they are being used for.

(le vieux) #19

I watched the screen carefully during our last constituency meeting. The votes never exceeded the number of delegates. Instead, the totals were always less than the number of delegates. People do have to go to the powder room occasionally.

(Carolyn Parsons) #20

Wow, now that is encouragement to bring it back! I used what looks like the exact same model at school and it only cost $40.