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How the KPFA elections model works

This information is of vital importance so please READ ALL THE WAY DOWN...


From: Carol Spooner
Date: Fri Nov 29, 2002 2:07 pm
Subject: How the KPFA election model works

Please Feel Free to Forward to Others


The KPFA Local Station Board election model is a "Proportional Representation" voting system. Proportional representation is a voting system used in most democracies around the world to insure that an elected multi-seat body actually represents the diversity of views of the voting pool, rather than a "winner-take-all" system or a two party system where many of the voters are unrepresented. The KPFA model uses the "Single Transferrable Voting" method, also sometimes called "Choice" voting. You can read in depth about this voting system at The Center for Voting and Democracy web page at http://www.fairvote.org/

This is different from the usual "at large" elections we have in this country, where 51% of the voters can control ALL the seats on a city council, for instance, leaving 49% of the voters unrepresented.

Using political parties as an example, if 15% of the voters vote Green, 20% vote Labor, 15% vote Libertarian, 5% vote Peace & Freedom, 20% vote Republican, 20% vote Democrat, and 5% vote American Independent, then the seats on the council would be distributed in those percentages among candidates from those parties.

Of course, in our Local Board elections, we do not have "parties", we have individual candidates. However, it is possible that voters might choose to vote for candidates based upon their racial or ethnic heritage or their primary political or cultural interests (such as gay rights or environmental issues or peace activism). In that event, the seats would be filled in proportion to the voters' identification of their interests.

In addition, under the KPFA model, we require that a minimum of 50% of the seats be filled by people of color and 50% be filled by women (a woman of color is counted in both categories). If those minimums are not met, then we replace the lowest vote-getters who are not people of color or women with the highest vote-getters who are people of color or women in order to fulfill our 50% minimum requirements -- provided that anyone seated must receive at least 1/3rd the minimum number of votes ordinarily needed to be elected, and of course also provided that there are candidates of color or women to fill those seats

We have held two KPFA Local Board elections using this voting system and it has been successful. In the first election, one man of color was seated who would not have been seated without the minimum diversity requirements -- and he has for two years brought great thoughtfulness to our LAB. In the second election, every person of color who ran was elected without the necessity of applying the diversity minimums. However -- and this may be a problem for some or all LABs in the future, regardless of voting method -- we did NOT have enough candidates of color to fill our minimum diversity requirements. This is an outreach and recruitment problem, not a problem with the voting system itself. Many, many people tell us they are too busy with other work to do the job well, so they don't want to run.

When I say that the KPFA Local Board elections have been "successful", I mean that they have resulted in a diverse LAB in many ways -- LAB members come from all around our large signal area, with many cultural and political interests, and from many different cultural/ethnic/racial heritages -- e.g., we have immigrants from Palestine, Puerto Rico & Uganda, as well as people with Latino, African and Indigenous heritages. (We do not currently have anyone of Asian heritage on our LAB -- the only Asian candidate in the last election withdrew due to a back injury, or he would have been seated.) We also have a labor organizer, some musicians, advocates for immigrants' rights, prisoners' rights, health care rights, a CPA/peace activist, a youth advocate, a gay activist, an artist, at least one writer, peace activists ... and so on, quite a diverse group of people.

One point that should be emphasized about proportional representation voting is that it allows self-determination among voting blocks -- so if a large enough number of voters of Asian heritage, for example, choose to vote for an Asian candidate, then they can elect the Asian candidate of their own choosing. What is large enough? It depends on the number of seats to be filled. The more seats there are to be filled, the smaller the percentage of the vote needed to gain a seat. So, if 1 seat is open, then 1/2 +1 of the votes are needed; if 2 seats are open then 1/3 +1 of the votes are needed; if 10 seats are open the 1/11 + 1 of the votes are needed ... and so on.

To give concrete examples -- if 20% of the eligible voters actually vote in the upcoming local board elections, and there are 18 seats available for listener-members to elect (as there would be under the KPFA model with a 24-person Local Board where 1/4 of the seats are elected by the station staff) --

At WPFW -- where there are about 6,000 subscribers, that would be about 1,200 voters and it would take 1/19 + 1 of those votes to be elected, or 64 votes.

At KPFT -- where there are about 10,000 subscribers, that would be about 2,000 voters and it would take 1/19 + 1 of those votes to be elected, or 106 votes.

At WBAI & KPFK -- where there are about 18,000 subscribers, that would be about 3,600 voters and it would take 1/19 + 1 of those votes to be elected, or 190 votes.

At KPFA -- where there are about 25,000 subscribers, that would be about 5,000 voters and it would take 1/19 + 1 of those votes to be elected, or 264 votes.

An important feature of the single transferrable vote proportional representation system is that no vote is wasted. If a voter's first choice is eliminated, then his/her vote is transferred to his/her second choice, or if a voter's first choice is elected with excess votes, then the excess votes are transferred (on a pro-rata basis) to each voter's second choice. So almost everyone will end up with either their first, second, or third choice candidate elected, and no one will be unrepresented on the board.


Surprisingly, given the great amount of energy that "Pacifica Activists" have devoted to this issue, recruiting candidates to run for election is NOT easy. Many people are just too busy and don't feel they can give enough time to do the job well. Also, at KPFA, during our last two election cycles we did NOT have carts on the air encouraging people to run and giving them information about who to contact about running. (Our station staff and management was NOT enthusiastic about the LAB elections and didn't give us much help.) It will be VERY IMPORTANT for all stations to run frequent carts -- at all times of day -- announcing that people interested in serving should contact the elections coordinator, announcing public meetings where candidates can gather nominations signatures, and so on. Under the KPFA model, 15 signatures from listener-subscribers are needed to nominate a candidate. (Under the "hybrid" constituency model 50 signatures are needed from a candidate's own constituency group -- that looks like a VERY large hurdle for most constituency candidates and could result in no candidates or very few who qualify.)

On Air Announcements Public events throughout the signal area where candidates can gather nominating signatures Contacting good people you know and "twisting their arms" to persuade them to run All will be needed to field a diverse group of candidates ... and people should start recruiting candidates NOW.

Giving the Local Boards Real Power -- Another problem in recruiting candidates for the past two KPFA Local Board elections was that the LAB had NO POWER ... many people felt it wasn't worth the time and effort to run for an "advisory" board that had no ability to affect station policies or programming at all. Under the new bylaws we hope that the Local Station Boards will be much more important in station oversight & policy making -- and that the station managers will be accountable to the local boards and not just the Executive Director (or national board). I hope it will help to persuade people to run if they know that their service on the local board can really make a difference.

Convincing People that it is Important to Run -- Many activists and political people are so busy with their other activities that they think "someone else" will do it. Or they don't think a radio station is as important as whatever other political/community work they are doing. They take the station for granted. But they should NOT take the station or the Pacifica network for granted. First of all, we nearly lost it to a cabal that wanted to take it into the mainstream and make Pacifica pretty worthless to all the causes we are fighting for. Secondly, ALTERNATIVE MEDIA is essential if any of our causes are to succeed. I'm probably preaching to the choir in writing this ... we all know that the mainstream media does not cover our issues or covers them in the corporate interests, not our interests. But it is surprising how much difficulty there is in persuading people who have NOT been involved in the Pacifica fight, that Pacifica Radio needs them if Pacifica is going to remain free and strong. (The unruly acrimony among many Pacifica activists also discourages some people from running, because a lot of time is wasted on it and it is quite unpleasant.)


Some people ask why we don't just "let the voters decide" who gets elected without the minimum 50% requirements for women and people of color? The answer is that we made a value judgment that people of color or women or both -- for many historical and societal reasons -- are underrepresented on almost every decision making body of every organization we know in this country, and that the decisions those bodies make suffer and are poorer as a result. Regardless of the number of women or people of color living in our station areas, or among our listeners or subscribers, or heard on our air -- we wanted to make absolutely certain that no Pacifica governing body would ever be dominated by white people or by men. Some people think that's "unfair" or "anti-democratic", we do not. We think it is both "fair" and "democratic" to ensure that those who have historically been oppressed and unheard be a major part of the decision-making at Pacifica which is, after all, dedicated to understanding the causes of conflicts and peace with justice.

Why didn't we break our diversity requirements down further into percentages for various ethnic or oppressed groups? I think the main reason we didn't is because most of us felt that the "democratic process" would take care of it, given the 50% requirements, and that we do believe in a political process where various groups and interests can organize and build coalitions and gain support for their positions. Proportional representation voting allows that to happen. In addition, I think many of us felt that all of us are more multi-dimensional than our racial/ethnic heritage or any particular political cause. As we work to bridge our differences and build understanding and working coalitions, many of us felt that breaking people down into categories -- Asians, Latinos, African Heritage, Middle Eastern, Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender, Prisoners, Immigrants, Youth, Artists, Peace Activists -- would ultimately reinforce our divisions and make it more difficult for us to support one another in our struggles. We have seen that kind of divisiveness along racial lines playing itself out at KPFK and WBAI recently, and it appears destructive of what we stand for and are working to achieve at Pacifica. Others, of course, differ with this view, and are forcefully arguing their case that guaranteeing seats for certain defined constituencies is necessary. We simply disagree, although I think we seek the same end result -- very diverse boards representative of a broad range of views. The other reason we didn't break our categories down further under the KPFA model is the complexity of running such an election (and nominations procedures) would make it more difficult for the voters and more difficult to hold successful elections. Quite frankly, I think a lot of people who receive ballots with numerous constituency seats to vote for, in addition to at-large seats, will be so confused or perhaps turned off that they will not bother to vote -- that's the opposite of the result we all want.

Both the KPFA elections model and the "Hybrid" constituency model are posted at www.wbai.net

--Carol Spooner
KPFA LAB Member & Interim Pacifica Board Member

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