Secure, easy, efficient: Annual Conference to use electronic voting system for delegates

By George Hohmann

(Click here to view a short video about electronic voting at Annual Conference)

Secure, easy, efficient.

Those are some of the words used to describe the electronic voting system that will be unveiled at the West Virginia Annual Conference June 13-16 in Buckhannon.

Annual Conference lay members and clergy will use the system to elect six delegates — three lay people, three clergy — to the May 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, MN; and also to elect delegates to the July 2020 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Hunt Valley, MD.

Voting typically takes a considerable amount of time at Annual Conference. “People ask me at the end of every conference, ‘Why can’t we vote electronically?’” said Conference Secretary Judith Kenaston. “We will use it this year to elect delegates. Other votes will be conducted in traditional ways.”

Kenaston said great care has been taken to ensure the security of the electronic voting system. For example, the system uses its own wireless network, not the internet. Also, lay and clergy members will be issued different devices, making it impossible for lay people to vote in the election of clergy delegates and vice versa.

“We have to make sure we have a valid and secure vote,” Kenaston said. “That’s my job.”

Electing delegates to the May 2020 General Conference and the July 2020 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference will be among the most important decisions made at Buckhannon.

General Conferences, usually held every four years, are where changes are made to the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions.

The Book of Discipline outlines the law, doctrine, administration, organizational work and procedures of The United Methodist Church.

The Book of Resolutions contains the text of all resolutions or pronouncements on issues approved by the General Conference that are currently valid.

Lay delegates to the 2020 General Conference will be elected by the lay members in Buckhannon who cast ballots. Twenty lay people were nominated at last year’s Annual Conference. Information about the nominees is published on pages 201-211 of the Conference Workbook.

Additional candidates may be nominated from the floor prior to voting.

All of the candidates will be assigned a number.

The election will begin at Friday’s 8:45 a.m. business session.

At the start of the session, all eligible lay members (who will have blue name tags) within the bar (the official areas designated for members) will be asked to stand as able. Tellers will give each one an electronic voting device.

Kenaston said the device will be easy to use. It looks like a television remote control. Each member will be given a sheet with printed instructions and there will be verbal instructions and tests before any votes are taken.

A candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast to be elected.

During the first round of voting, lay members will be instructed to vote for three candidates. They will do so by pressing the numbers assigned to the candidates of their choice.

“The device will tell you to vote for three people,” Kenaston said. “You will enter a number and hit, ‘Send.’ The device will then read, ‘Sending…’ and then, ‘REMAIN: 2’. Then you will type in a number and hit ‘Send.’ The device will read, ‘Sending…’, followed by ‘REMAIN: 1’. Finally, you’ll enter a third number and hit ‘Send’. The device will read, ‘Sending…’ followed by ‘BALLOT CLOSED.’”

The Conference Secretary will read the names of all candidates who receive 10 or more votes. Then those names and numberswill be displayed on screens throughout the sanctuary.

“We hope this is more efficient than paper balloting,” Kenaston said. 

If a second ballot is necessary, the names and numbers of all candidates who receive 15 or more votes after the second round will be read and then displayed.

If three or more ballots are necessary, the names and numbers of all candidates who receive 20 or more votes will be read and then displayed each time.

The balloting will continue until three candidates are elected.

“During the balloting, if one person is elected, then you would only be voting for two people on the next ballot,” Kenaston said. “You will be required to vote for the correct number of candidates. If the balloting is for two people and you only vote for one person, your ballot will be invalid.”

Some ballots were invalid in past elections because a vote was cast for someone who had already been elected, or a member voted for too many people. “The electronic voting system will not allow you do to that, so it will cut down on invalid ballots,” Kenaston said.

Voting devices will be collected at the end of each business session.

Qualified clergy (who will have green name tags) will vote for three clergy delegates to the General Conference. Clergy will vote separately but use similar procedures.

The clergy nomination process and information about some of the clergy candidates is published on pages 213-226 of the Conference Workbook. A list of all clergy eligible to be elected will be distributed at Conference.

“Some people have said that voting takes too long,” Kenaston said. “People get tired of the process. But it’s important we follow the process.” Even though electronic voting may be more efficient, ample time for discernment will be provided between votes, she said.

Kenaston, who has served as a delegate in the past, said, “Being a delegate to General Conference can be rewarding but it is also a challenge physically, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes spiritually. There is considerable reading, study, and preparation required prior to the two-week session, in addition to the demands of the conference itself.”

Similar voting procedures will be followed to elect delegates to the July 2020 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

The Northeastern Jurisdiction consists of 10 annual conferences and 9 Episcopal Areas that stretch from West Virginia to Maine. The primary purpose of a jurisdictional conference is to elect bishops.

 “We will not know the number of bishops to be elected until after decisions are made at the General Conference,” Kenaston said. “The General Conference will determine the allotment of bishops in the jurisdictions.”

George Hohmann
Midland South District Communications Coordinator