Election Committee Further Limits Role of Vote Count Observers

By Shane Parmely, Twain CR and CTA Delegate-elect

I was able to observe while the Election Committee counted the votes for the run-off election.  (This was the run-off election in which Stephanie Marble won Board Seat 8, I won CTA Seat 4, and Michelle Sanchez won CTA Seat 5.)  While yet again, it was clear that the members of the Election Committee work incredibly hard, it was equally clear that the rules of the game keep changing midstream.

Per the SDEA Standing Rules, observers are not allowed to return once they leave, so I brought a grocery bag full of food and drinks, my laptop, and a magazine and settled in for the day.  After watching Committee Co-Chairs Karen Ellsworth and Kandi Nieto and newly appointed Election Committee member Bobbe Abbts check signatures on ballot envelopes against the membership list for a while, I decided to get out my laptop to do some work.  Ellsworth saw and stopped me, telling me that electronic devices are prohibited from the vote counting area.  I told her that our Standing Rules say absolutely nothing about prohibiting electronic devices at all.  I knew, because I had specifically looked for such a rule when planning for the day, and I have observed several SDEA vote counts where there has been no prohibition against electronic devices.  Ellsworth told me that it is a CTA rule and explained that because we are counting votes for a CTA seat that our election has to be run be CTA’s rules.  That’s never been the case before, so why is SDEA implementing a brand new rule that isn’t in our governing documents?  There is always a CTA seat up for election so apparently SDEA has no local control.  Why do we bother to pretend we get to write our own rules if we’re suddenly deciding to use CTA rules instead?  And why wasn’t I told this in the email that was sent detailing how I could observe the election?  I have kids I need to check-up on.  I was there observing for about eleven hours.  Was I really expected to have zero contact with the outside world?

Apparently the ban on electronics is only for observers, though.  Election Committee members freely texted and talked on their cell phones.  As the vote count wrapped up after nearly twelve hours, Stephanie Marble, who had arrived in the afternoon, turned on her phone so she could text her husband to tell him she’d be on her way home soon.  When she turned on her phone, it started chirping to alert her that she had incoming messages. Nieto became very upset and insistent that Marble turn off her phone — then a minute later Nieto picked up her phone and called her husband to tell him she was done and would be on her way home soon.  Rules without reason lead to rebellion.  I’m not sure what logic has guided CTA’s rules for their elections but they could use some revisiting.

The Election Committee also made sure to whisper or write down all information relating to the vote so that no one would know what any of the vote totals were.  Why?  I asked after the first time they did this and then took a break.  Ellsworth explained that they would not be saying anything out loud because they are not supposed to release information as per CTA instructions.  I asked what was the point of allowing people to observe the election count if no one could actually tell what it was they were observing?  She again referred to the newly implemented CTA rules… which I could have possibly looked up and read on the internet if that were actually allowed.

When the Election Committee finished with their hand count of the votes and only needed to run the votes through the ballot machine for a final count, the machine broke.  Three machines at SDEA, not a single one worked.  The three women had to hand count the votes again using a different method to verify the total.  This took an additional 2 ½ hours.  All the SDEA staff had left by then.  The Election Committee was not provided dinner.  It was around 8:30 p.m. by the time I left and the Election Committee was still there wrapping things up.  No one can say these volunteers don’t work incredibly hard. But our union should be following our own union governance documents, not those of another union — and those rules should be clearly communicated to members and consistently enforced.

Even though it was an extremely long day, I’m really glad I was there to witness everything.  There is a huge credibility issue currently facing SDEA elections, most of which is residual suspicion from the TA vote last summer and the lack of signature security envelopes. This suspicion has been rekindled by the “do over” election the Election Committee and SDEA Board has approved after SDEA Vice President Lindsay Burningham and former SDEA Vice President Marc Capitelli lost their election bids to the Breakfast Club slate.  I’ve spoken to, emailed, and texted with many members who were concerned that SDEA was somehow going to “fix” this run-off election.  People were only reassured that we had a clean election because Breakfast Club blogger Abts had just been added to the Election Committee, signature envelopes had been used and checked, and I had been there to witness all aspects of the vote count.  Hopefully confidence and participation in our union elections will continue to grow.

One thought on “Election Committee Further Limits Role of Vote Count Observers

  1. I sat with Shane and Stephanie for about an hour and a half. We were kept about 25 to 30 feet away from the counting tables unable to actually observe the process.
    It seems to me, and I may be mistaken, that in an open transparent democracy election officials would welcome observers much like we teachers welcome parent observers into our classrooms. Now I do understand the need that observers be unobtrusive and should not and can not be allowed to disrupt the process. However, for future elections I think for transparency sake we must allow for real observations of the election tabulation process.
    Peter Burrell

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