(If former Arlington County Democratic Committee chair Peter Rousselot had really sat down with former President Jimmy Carter to talk about free and fair elections, something very close to this likely would have been the result. – promoted by lowkell)
What this means; why it matters
The Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) decided on June 29, 2012 to reject two formal complaints filed by Gail Gordon Donegan and Ben Tribbett. Each of their complaints related to the procedures DPVA followed at its June 2, 2012 convention to elect DPVA’s representatives to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Because those procedures have been widely condemned as unfair and illegal by many other observers, I decided to seek out the opinion of one of the greatest election experts we have to get his perspective on what happened at DPVA’s convention.
So, I sat down during the July 4 holiday week with former President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta. To assure objectivity, the issues that President Carter and I discussed were presented to him in the context of a hypothetical situation involving political party elections at a convention recently held in the northern region of “Doministan”.
Peter Rousselot: Thanks very much for meeting with me today. As background for our readers, can you tell us a little bit about the work that you and the Carter Center have done regarding election monitoring in various countries around the world?
Jimmy Carter: Rosalynn and I are pleased to have you as our guest here at the Carter Center. As we explain on our website, The Carter Center has been a pioneer in election observation since 1989, monitoring more than 90 elections in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We developed many of the techniques now common in this field. We analyze election laws, assess voter education and registration, and evaluate fairness in campaigns.
Peter Rousselot: Would it be accurate to say that you and your colleagues have developed a set of core principles and minimum standards that must be met in order for an election to be considered fair?
Jimmy Carter : Yes.
Peter Rousselot : Alright, then, I’d like to ask you about some of the events that occurred at a recent convention held by one of the two leading political parties in Doministan. I’ll ask for your opinion whether those events meet the minimum standards for election fairness that the Carter Center has developed.
President Carter: Go ahead.
Peter Rousselot: The first thing I’d like to ask about is the actions of the Sultan of Burke who is one of the party rulers in northern Doministan. This man is one member of a small clique that controls the political party that held the convention. The Sultan played a prominent role in deciding who would receive credentials entitling people to vote. He told many people seeking credentials that, even though they met all the published objective criteria for a credential (i.e., registered voter, promise to support the party’s nominee for President), he would not give them a credential unless they also promised to vote for his slate of candidates for a hotly-contested party office. The Sultan, and other members of the party’s ruling clique, later tried to excuse this conduct because they say that there currently is no party rule that specifically prohibits such conduct. They also say that even if what the Sultan did was wrong, it doesn’t matter because prospective delegates could say “yes” to get credentialed, but then turn around later and vote for whomever they chose. What’s your opinion?
President Carter : The party rulers are wrong, and it doesn’t matter whether there is an existing party rule that specifically prohibits the Sultan’s conduct nor whether anyone actually was refused a credential on this basis. Any time a political party holds elections for a party office, it violates a basic principle of minimum election fairness for a major party leader to condition the right to vote on a promise to vote for a specific candidate or slate. This is simply a form of brute intimidation. Citizens of all democratic countries instinctively realize this is wrong without any rule spelling it out. What the Sultan did set a tone that fatally tainted the election. After more than two decades of work in developing countries around the world, I have found that most of these countries now meet this minimum standard. I am disturbed and disheartened to hear that this political party in Doministan fell below the standards met routinely by political parties in the third world. In any civilized democracy, what the Sultan of Burke did should be condemned and sanctioned.
Peter Rousselot: Why do you think the ruling clique of this political party in Doministan is trying to rely on the alleged absence of a rule prohibiting the Sultan’s specific conduct to justify the clique’s failure to take any action?
President Carter: In the minority of third world countries in which practices like this are still common, they occur because the ruling clique is desperately trying to hold on to power. Therefore, this particular political party in Doministan needs a major infusion of new leaders and new ideas.
Peter Rousselot: In this particular case, the ruling clique of Doministan did have a rule that said in pertinent part that “no slate may receive preferential treatment …, nor may any slate be publicly identified on the ballot or otherwise as the ‘official slate'”. Based on what I have told you about the Sultan’s efforts to deny credentials to any prospective delegate who refused to promise to vote for the only slate on the ballot, do you have an opinion as to whether the Sultan violated the portion of the ruling clique’s rule I have just read to you?
President Carter: In my opinion, the Sultan clearly violated that language in that rule. Of course, as I told you earlier, no such rule is needed to make what the Sultan did a grave violation of international standards.
Peter Rousselot: Next, I’d like to ask you about another event that occurred at the Doministan convention. For the same hotly-contested party office, the convention began with 5 candidates running for 2 openings. The convention was operating under a rule that, in order to be elected, a candidate had to receive more than 50% of the vote. The way the rule was worded, candidates receiving the fewest votes would be dropped from any ballot beyond the first ballot, but there was always a possibility of multiple ballots after the first ballot. Even though the party ruling clique knew that multiple ballots might be needed, the convention started late, and the first ballot did not begin until much later than the start. Moreover, even though the results of the first ballot were final and known by 12:45 pm, those results were not announced publicly until about 2:15 pm-after the firm deadline for the convention to end (the convention hall was booked by another group). At least one additional ballot, and maybe more, would have been required to fill the second of the two openings. At this point, for the very first time, the chair of the convention (Brian Moran, le petit Caliph of the political party), offered the voting delegates two options:
(1) if they still wanted to vote by secret ballot, they could do so, but only at 3:30 pm-ninety minutes after the scheduled conclusion of the convention and only at another location; or
(2) if they wanted to vote right away, they could stay in the convention hall, but they would have to vote out in the open (i.e., w/o the benefit of a secret ballot).
Assume for purposes of this particular question that these two options were clearly and unambiguously presented to the delegates by petit Caliph Moran. Would this sequence of events meet minimum standards of election fairness?
President Carter: Absolutely not. Having a secure secret ballot for every contested election is a fundamental prerequisite for an election that meets minimum international standards. In this case, one of the two options offered was a secret-ballot option, but this option was only offered for a time 90 minutes after the previously-announced time that “the polls were scheduled to close” and for a location different from the only previously-announced polling location. Moreover, the voting delegates were only told of this possibility for the very first time 15 minutes after the mandated end of the convention. For this combination of reasons, any election that took place after these two options were presented was an invalid election according to recognized international norms.
Peter Rousselot: Next, President Carter, I would like you to revisit the immediately preceding question, with the following additional information: le petit Caliph Moran, and the ruling clique of this political party in Doministan, have argued that this election still ended up being fair because the voting delegates had the power to suspend the rules and forego a secret ballot, and those delegates exercised that right. Please review the video of the sequence of events on which they are relying: http://bluevirginia.us/showDia…
Now, tell me if you believe that what you saw in that video convinces you that what you previously concluded was an unfair choice was converted to a fair choice by the vote of these delegates?
President Carter: There is no way that any disinterested objective observer watching that video could conclude that these delegates properly waived their rights to a secret ballot.
Peter Rousselot: Taking into account all of your prior answers about the election violations that you have identified, and further taking into account the chaotic scene in the convention video you have just witnessed, let me turn now to the latest excuse for all of this that the ruling clique in Doministan has offered. They are arguing that no matter what election violations may have occurred, the fact that no one formally complained about any such violations by raising a parliamentary point of order before the convention adjourned prevents them from granting any relief now. Is this fair? Should this be a valid reason to deny any remedy for any election violations which actually did occur?
President Carter: Such a position is neither fair nor should it be a valid reason to deny an appropriate remedy for the election violations. During the chaos at the end of the convention, literally scores of people were properly trying to make points of order from the floor. Those people were shouted down violently and threatened with removal. Given this behavior by those members of the ruling clique conducting the meeting, it is ridiculous for them to claim now that no relief for election violations can be granted because parliamentary points of order were never raised by people who themselves were being intimidated by those conducting the meeting. Also, the video is so chaotic, with so many people shouting, that there is no way to tell whether some people on the convention floor might have been trying to raise points of order about the election violations. Frankly, Rosalynn and I have witnessed many disorganized meetings in many countries, and the meeting in the video we’ve just seen is one of the most disorganized and chaotic meetings I have seen anywhere in the world. Just where is Doministan anyway?
Peter Rousselot: It’s located immediately north of North Carolina.
Rosalynn Carter: OMG! You mean this was a political party convention here in the United States of America, in the state of Virginia? Is it really possible that a major American political party could hold contested elections in the 21st century and make this much of a mess of it?
President Carter: WOW! Even the Egyptian military rulers could learn a thing or two from the leaders of this Virginia political party.
FULL DISCLOSURE: For those few of you who might have had any doubts, I did NOT sit down with Jimmy Carter or Rosalynn Carter for the foregoing interview, and the opinions expressed above are entirely my own. Sadly, however, all of the events described above did happen, and DPVA now has tried to sweep them under the rug by denying the two formal complaints which were filed shortly after the convention.
This 2012 state convention disaster was just the latest manifestation of major problems that have been systemic at DPVA for several years at least. As we explain below, only fundamental institutional change will prevent further such disasters from happening. Small changes to future convention procedures, while helpful and important, simply will represent a better arrangement of the deck chairs on an ocean liner which will sink again in the future unless there is fundamental change in the way in which the ocean liner itself (DPVA) is designed, organized and managed.
DPVA needs a large number of reforms. I recommended some of those reforms in November 2011 in the wake of VA Democrats’ devastating loss of control of the Virginia State Senate. http://bluevirginia.us/showDia… Rather than repeating those recommendations again, I will briefly discuss here some additional reforms that DPVA desperately needs: term limits, accountability & transparency, and a prohibition on slate voting.
There are current members of the DPVA Steering Committee and of the DPVA Central Committee who have served for 10, 15, even 20 years-either in their current positions or in other positions. In the 21st century, in a battleground state, this is not acceptable because these long-timers have proven to be among the most persistent and entrenched opponents of the reforms that DPVA needs to operate effectively. I recommend the adoption of these term limits: effective as of the May 2013 Central Committee elections, no one shall be eligible for election to, or service on, either the DPVA Steering Committee or the DPVA Central Committee if that person has served on either body as a member or as an officer for two full terms (8 years) or longer.
Accountability & Transparency
As Teddy Goodson has eloquently written previously, the way in which DPVA is currently managed and run makes DPVA completely unaccountable even to members of its own Central Committee. http://bluevirginia.us/showDia… Teddy wrote her diary in the wake of the terrible performance by DPVA and its Chair, Brian Moran, in recruiting Democratic candidates to run for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2011. Her argument then: no one at DPVA ever admitted publicly to having played any role in that fiasco, apologized for it, or suffered any consequences as a result of it. Once again-only a few months later-DPVA’s chain of command is so uncertain that it is impossible to determine who ought to be held accountable for decisions such as waiting much too long before jettisoning the Patriot Center as the site of the 2012 convention or choosing the Performing Arts Center as the site instead. DPVA’s chain of command and management structure needs to be revamped and clarified, and DPVA’s Central Committee and other Democratic grassroots activists need to be welcomed and consulted on major strategic decisions.
Prohibition on Slate Voting
DPVA currently has a rule-Section 14.5 of its Party Plan-that permits slate voting at conventions or caucuses. Many attendees at DPVA’s 2012 state convention sharply condemned the practice of slate voting as yet another tool to maintain the party insiders’ grip on power. However, they were confronted with the present reality that Section 14.5 permits slates. That needs to change. The current authorization of slates should be replaced by a prohibition of slates similar to the prohibition that is currently in place in the By-Laws of the Democratic Party of Ohio. Chapter 5, Section 8 of the By-Laws of the Democratic Party of Ohio provides in pertinent part, “Each delegate shall be permitted to vote individually and no unit rule, proxy, or slate voting shall be required or permitted.” See also Chapter 7, Section 6 of those same Ohio Democratic Party By-Laws which provides in pertinent part, “No Democratic State or County, Central or Executive Committee shall permit election of its officers by slate.” Moral: slate voting is not an integral part of state Democratic Party governance. The Ohio Democratic Party prohibits slates, and so should the Virginia Democratic Party.
The 2012 DPVA state convention descended into chaos and discord. http://www.washingtontimes.com… Hundreds of first-time delegates were shocked and disturbed by what they saw, and many vowed never to attend another state convention. Sadly, DPVA won’t get a second chance to make a first impression on them. Federal candidate campaigns with the savvy, resources and sophistication of Obama for President or Kaine for Senate are well aware of DPVA’s crippling limitations, and will work around them in 2012. But those crippling limitations were lethal in 2011 and will be again in 2013 unless we install new leadership from the top down and fundamentally reform DPVA.
Even if your own local Democratic committee is working well, many other local Democratic committees in the state are not. A well-organized and managed DPVA could improve this situation substantially. The DPVA that planned and managed the 2012 state convention cannot improve this situation. If you care about electing more Democrats in Virginia, you should care about this, and you should take action now to support DPVA reform.
Tell DPVA and Brian Moran what you think: email firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know it’s time for a change.