Is S&DCA democratic?

Steve Bracey (16 Oct 2015) (edited - italics - at SB's suggestion in the light of S.Mann's comments about "executive" and "officer" (below)):
"Considering the number of clubs and the number of officers is it fair that their votes should carry the same weight. Apart from the obvious ludicrous situation that in theory the officers could pass a motion which no club agreed with it also gives clubs with officer members more weight in a vote. From a selfish stand point I can see the advantage of a Chesterfield block vote of 4 on the 6 board issue but it does appear enormously unfair.

I have not really given much thought to the voting mechanics but to be honest I do not see why officers should be voting at all. I would have thought the only people voting should be the clubs. Whether each club should simply have one vote or one vote per team to reflect their relative size is possibly an issue. Before presenting it as a motion I would like to hear other peoples opinion. In particular those of other officers. We know organisers are like gold dust and if any officer were likely to quit because they lost their vote that is a big practical consideration."

Brian Lever: For information: The relevant rule is Rule 9(c): At General meetings each officer and member club shall have one vote except that on matters relating to team competitions, including proposed alterations to the Rules for team competitions, non-competing member clubs shall not be eligible to vote.

Rule 10(c) may be of interest: "A proposal for alteration of the Constitution or Rules shall, in order to be carried, require a majority of at least two thirds of the votes cast."

Some thoughts (in quotes) with an historical perspective from Geoff Frost (22/10/2015), who concludes: "I would be opposed to VPs losing their vote," because... "I would like to think that they use their votes for the good of the association, rather than their club..." and "... We have many active VPs who represent a cross-section of clubs up and down the divisions."

Geoff applies this concept of the depth and breadth of experience of Vice-Presidents with regard to Steve Bracey's comments on Chesterfield's (real or apparent) "block vote" of 4. Geoff remembers, the last time the 8/6 board Davy debate came to the vote that: "I was in a similar situation at Woodseats. We had President, 3 VPs and the club vote. As it was, the VPs individually felt that 8 was preferable, and we did not vote as a block, although it appeared so!!" 

Geoff also recalls a situation: “... 'many' years ago in a very contentious proposal and I counted 17 club votes and 17 officers! I will pass on the details as there were other contentious issues about it."

"I am the second longest serving VP, the longest does not attend. I recall in earlier years a count of VPs to see who was still alive and who was dead! This is no longer the case." 

Again, in defence of votes for (and the wisdom of) VP's: "Also 'many years ago' there was a vote which was specific on one division, I suspect the format and matches to be played in the bottom division. I and others urged that only the clubs affected should vote, and I did not vote as I was not affected."

"Under previous constitutions all Divisional Secretaries were designated “Assistant” Secretaries. I note that some divisional secretaries are also VPs so that wouldn't help."

Steve Mann (22/10/2015): "Steve B’s comments seem to be aimed at S&DCA General Meetings, rather than Executive meetings, in which case reference to “officers” rather than “executive” (not the same thing) would be more appropriate.

The underlying idea seems to be that the number of officers eligible to vote (27) exceeds the total of clubs eligible to vote (16) – as at present. The 27 officers are made up of the following: 11 officers in operationally active posts (5 also being vice-presidents), 8 vice-presidents with no operationally active post, but active as local players, 7 vice-presidents with no operationally active post, and inactive as local players, 1 past president, now inactive.

It is those in the first two categories who typically are likely to exercise their right to vote (19), while those in the second two categories would not normally exercise the right, being inactive in chess or living away from the area. That leaves the balance (or imbalance), in practice, about 19-16 in favour of officers as compared with clubs.

The basic voting system probably goes back to when the officers were a president, a treasurer, a secretary and an assistant secretary, with two, three or so vice-presidents. Although there’d be less clubs, the clubs would outnumber the officers.

On the face of it there seems some justification for feeling the clubs should carry more relative weight. This could be achieved in a number of ways, including the following:

a) disenfranchising all officials (losing 27 official votes),
b) disenfranchising vice-presidents and past presidents (losing 16 official votes),
c) giving clubs 2 votes each (adding 16 club votes),
d) combining (b) and (c) – making it 32 club and 11 official votes, 
e) giving clubs 1 vote per winter league team in the preceding season (adding 25 club votes – 41 in total).

Some might feel officers bring knowledge, experience, and dispassionate objectivity to the decision-making process, making (a) and (b) retrograde, perhaps. Some might feel giving larger clubs more weight could lead to an unfair monopoly. (The dominance of one local league in Yorkshire by a single club once resulted in a separate break-away league being formed.) Option (d) above seems to me the most viable change, if change is thought preferable. A possible rewording of Rule 9(c) would be: 

“At General meetings each officer, apart from Vice-Presidents and Past Presidents, shall have one vote, and each member club shall have two votes, except that on matters relating to team competitions, including proposed alterations to the Rules for team competitions, non-competing member clubs shall not be eligible to vote.”

While Steve Mann (who doesn't personally have an issue with the current rule) gives an example of a rule change which would disenfranchise Vice- and Ex-presidents but not the other (active) officers Steve Bracey mentions, Alan Taylor (23/10/2015) prefers to go further towards - and possibly beyond - Steve B's more radical views:

Alan: "Steve (Bracey) has raised an interesting and very fundamental point here.

Voting rights at the AGM (and SGM) are given to member clubs and to the Officers as defined in rule 4. This list includes extras such as League Secretaries, past Presidents etc. who theoretically may not be members of Member Clubs. All these ‘officers’ are given a vote at the AGM and as Steve quite rightly points out, could form a block vote and indeed could total more than the member clubs present. Interestingly enough, other democratically elected members of the Executive elected under rule 5b (vii) do not have a vote!

If we are to prevent what some could see as an unfair influence on voting, with any one club having a greater say on a decision than another club, then the only way is to have a ‘one member club, one vote’ system. (Definitely not: each team, one vote). Consequently the Chair of the AGM would not vote but would of course, in line with standard operating practises, be given a casting vote where necessary.

This would require an amendment to rule 9c from ‘At General meetings each officer and member club shall have one vote except that on matters relating to team competitions, including proposed alterations to the Rules for team competitions, non-competing member clubs shall not be eligible to vote’ to ‘At General meetings each member club shall have one vote with the Meeting Chairperson having a casting vote where necessary’.

This would make the Association more democratic and I would find difficulty in understanding why such a change would make anyone who would then be precluded from voting, be so unhappy as they were likely to quit."

Paul Fletcher (04/11/2015): I would like to make some comments on S&DCA Democracy on the S&DCA discussions page of the website.

This year I put forward proposals for the first time.

Firstly, although I had backing from other clubs, on what was not a new proposal, as proposal maker I didn’t have any voting rights.

Secondly, although I admit I have never had a key role within the Association I have been a member of various clubs for the last 38 years. I also want what is best for the Association and not any individual club but had no voting rights.

Thirdly, for a proposal change, 66% of all votes cast are needed. My first proposal was defeated by 11 votes to 10 with some abstentions. On the night one club having a seemingly block of 4 votes in various forms they only needed another 4 more votes to block this proposal. Where to pass the proposal, I needed 14 votes as I was starting from a lower base. The odds are stacked vastly against the proposer.

Fourthly, the unexpected historical view at the beginning of the proposal wasn’t helpful. Comparing 1899 to 2015? Watch out for the Bird's Opening, Double Bishop Sacrifice next season.

Lastly according to Steve Mann’s figures there are 35 voters, so before the AGM, a list of individual and club voters would have been helpful to any proposer.

I have taken the liberty of including below an "aside" I received in an email from Stephen Greep, the General Secretary of Hull & District Chess Association (BL):
Stephen Greep (01/11/2015): As an aside, I found the debate about your AGM interesting.In Hull every registered chess player is entitled to a vote at the AGM. We are a registered charity so membership of a club (and thereby membership of the charity) entitles you to a vote. Trustees (officers of the committee) still get one vote (just one, not two). Clubs themselves don't get a vote. Sheffield probably has more players and clubs than Hull (I have 152 players on my list, only 7 clubs). About 35 came to the last AGM.

The most contentious issue is currently whether everyone is required to be an ECF member (defeated 20 to 10 at this year's AGM). I. Am sure this will be revisited this year!

Andy Mort (21/11/2015): Leaving aside the issue of whether officials should have votes alongside clubs, which is debatable, my understanding of democracy in the context of The Sheffield Chess League is that, whilst individuals may make proposals, they may not vote. An individual’s right to vote is exercised within the club context, presumably at its A.G.M., and a club representative is then mandated to vote in accordance with the outcomes of the meeting at the League A.G.M. 

The problem with votes for individual members might be the ‘rentamob’ scenario: how many potential votes would Wombwell have compared with Nomads, say? It would be feasible for a disgruntled minority to be defeated in a club vote and turn up in numbers to outvote the club’s mandated representative!

Latest contribution:

John Fletcher (24/11/2015): To say, in supporting the existing system, that one “would like to think that” Vice-Presidents vote impartially (Geoff Frost, above) misses the point. One sets up systems that don’t rely on people’s good natures because, if you don’t, the system will sometimes be abused by someone less altruistic than Geoff.

He goes on to say that when several members from one club all voted the same way it wasn’t really bloc voting because they were voting as individuals. The fact that they may not have openly colluded again misses the point. If they voted the same way because their views were coloured by a common perspective (relating to their club), then it was bloc voting. 

Andy Mort notes that individuals have a say through their own club, and Brian Lever attributed to him (Newsletter, 24th Nov 2015) the claim that “consensus views filter up from there to the central meeting". This would hardly make S&DCA democratic when a consensus or even a unanimous opinion of members can be out-voted by officers. The system of officer votes has a parallel in the British parliamentary system. It’s called the House of Lords. But S&DCA is less democratic than the British Parliament because the House of Lords cannot pass legislation against the will of elected representatives.

Advocates of the current system might argue that the selection of officers is democratic - they are elected at AGMs and must submit for re-election every year. I suppose they might argue as well that the high rate of re-election proves what a fantastic job they all do. But then consider who actually gets to vote on the election and re-election of officers. That would be the Executive, including officers, who make up a majority.

See above for all earlier contributions.

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