Arizona's Left Leaning Community
I hoped I could make a difference with voting in the National Organization for Women (NOW). Historically, there was a split in the movement to get the right to vote for women for 20 years, and that was over a state-by-state approach or a Federal approach but occurred right after the introduction of the 15th Amendment that gave African-American men the right to vote in 1870. Even though the 15th amendment was ratified there was every effort to keep African American men from voting with poll taxes, literacy tests and other impediments. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was needed to make sure all of the people who had the legal right to vote, could vote. Maybe we avoided this official split in the feminist movement but it is hard for all women to unify with NOW. It has been difficult for NOW to keep up with changing times and technology. NOW, the organization most associated with the second wave of feminism, has some of the most confusing election procedures that I have ever seen. I was surprised to find such a voting problem in an organization where the feminists before us fought so hard for the right to vote. The League of Women Voters was created out of the National Woman Suffrage Association and continues today as a nonpartisan organization to keep voters informed. This blog post is in my opinion and a work in progress as my ideas are still developing.
NOW elections are anti-democratic but I don't think that long-time feminists in NOW see them that way. They might think that this is the system and if you work with it, then you can get a good outcome. Unfortunately, the location of the election is such a great influence on the voting process that it may be the greatest single factor to determine who wins, not transparent so that people understand who can vote and why, full of confusing and procedures that I was unable to find in a policy manual. The bottom line is that voting at NOW elections is mostly based on the ability to afford the time and cost of travel or the amount of money that can be raised to send voters to the conference. Further, the election system is full of campaigns where you do not always have declared candidates with a message. What I saw at the SW Regional NOW Election Conference on March 24, 2012 was a candidate nominated from the floor that we thought was not running because that is what she had said. She had no written platform or biography. It was hard to understand what had happened or why.
Some women can be persuaded by the desire to keep any concerns quiet in hope that NOW won't be damaged in the process but internal inconsistencies like this can make an organization wither and die from the inside out. Look at the political parties-millions are opting out of political parties altogether across the U.S. I am an election integrity activist and when I see an unfair election system in an organization that is supposed to support women, it is hard to not say anything about it. I have not said much about it for two years, and not much has changed in two years except some hopes for using technology to bring in more voting members to conferences without requiring a person's physical presence. However, this is only happening at the regional NOW level and they are considering getting rid of the regions. I only know about two out of nine regions considering anything like it. Members have expressed concerned about the cost of teleconferencing, mailed ballots or a proxy system when the attendance of so many people at a conference is exorbitant. National NOW may be considering the idea of voting by mail but the first thing I hear is that they are concerned about the cost and do not how to implement a new voting system in NOW. For a National NOW Conference, the cost for 400 participants at even $500 each is $200,000. I would think that is a heftier price to pay when the other 60,000 plus members are not there to vote on anything: resolutions, bylaws changes every year and the election of National NOW officers every four years. So in my opinion, these cost concerns are not that high when you consider how much it costs in travel expenses to go to the Regional or National NOW Conferences.
The United States election system is modeled on the idea of one person, one vote with no impediments to voting, including anything that is like a poll tax or a cost to voting. That is the ideal we have for elections in the United States. In some states, we strive for transparency in campaign financing and publicly funded elections. In Arizona, we have clean elections and strong efforts for transparency with campaign finance reporting. NOW's election system requires what constitutes a poll tax, in my opinion, for nearly every member who votes and it is not just a 5 or 10 mile trip to the polling place. Further, there is a hope, in the U.S, voting system that the polling place is not moved from one place to another last minute or misinformation printed about where the polling place is. NOW failed in this regard for the Southwest Regional NOW elections and did not follow its own bylaws or its pattern of practice.
The regional election process was put into question by not following the pattern of practice and all elections in NOW, as currently conducted, are fatally flawed to borrow a term from my election integrity friend, John Brakey. John and other election integrity activists have fought for transparency in elections in Arizona. The point is that what we are fighting for in US Elections are the ideal we hope to achieve. What are voting rights and what are clean elections? Why is NOW unaware of how their system encourages neither voting rights or clean elections because it is all about how much money you can raise to get people to the conferences to vote and currently that is the only way they can vote. So the next best thing is to try to manipulate the conference location through the bidding process and getting people there to vote by paying for their travel costs. This is like the get-out-the-vote effort except each person has a greater hurdle to overcome to vote. I have been disturbed that the National NOW Conference has been in the Eastern time zone for three years in a row. How is that moving the conference to make it is accessible to all parts of the country?
This was my most recent experience of voting for National NOW board members. The election was supposed to take place in Phoenix, Arizona. The pattern and practice is to switch to a different state in the region to hold the Southwest Regional NOW Election Conference. Elections take place every two years and the last election was in California in 2010. Arizona is the only other state in the Southwest Region of NOW with a state NOW organization so Nevada, Utah and Hawaii do not have state NOW organizations so they are unable to "host" the election conference. National NOW published a 60-day written reminder that the March 24, 2012 SW Regional NOW Election was to take place in Phoenix, Arizona. On February 11, 2012, I received an email notice from the current National NOW Board member from Arizona stating that the election had been moved to Los Angeles, CA, which is not in keeping with a 60-day notice or pattern and practice. I still have seen no accounting of how an updated notice to nearly half of the AZ NOW members that we do not have an emails for was done or to all the members of the Southwest Region-if that was indeed done.
I knew that the voting procedures lacked transparency when I was at the National NOW Conference in Boston in 2010. I formulated a resolution but they just ruled it out of order stating it was a bylaws change. I encouraged other forms of voting so that every person did not have to pay $500 or more to get to the conference. A National NOW Board member came up with unpublished policies to back up election procedures about conference badges because I had lost mine. I was told I could not vote without it and someone else might use it to vote. I was devastated by this news. I could not vote, why? So that was the fear-another person would pretend to use my number and vote on the floor concerning resolutions. Real transparency would have all of that information clearly on the internet for all to see and printed out. I was eventually able to vote, and I still don't know why. I found the lost badge in my luggage so no one had taken it to vote fraudulently.
I have been told that change in established organizations like NOW takes time. I don't know how quickly NOW can implement change. Lawsuits cost money and time so that is where a lack of accountability occurs. Who has the money and time to take any part of NOW to court over violations of their bylaws, most people will not bother with that. For example in the Arizona Democratic Party (ADP), they got legal opinions about the bylaws from two different lawyers and the opinions contradicted each other. There is no money in taking organizations to court over bylaws infringement. Perhaps they could have another simpler system to arbitrate disputes like this for all organizations so that it does not erupt into a big battle with people divided, which is what happened in the ADP case. In the end, many people in the ADP were unhappy with the end result and wondered why we had to go to such lengths to get around the bylaws.
In the next part of this article, I will discuss the resolution that I brought to the SW Regional NOW Conference about voting and what happened. This is one bright spot in what occurred that weekend in Los Angeles. It is a positive step and if NOW starts adopting different and more open voting procedures by 2014, I see hope.
NOTE: I have been editing this blog post as I get more ideas and realize that what I initially said might need to be changed.