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Analysis of updated constituency model for elections

From: Carol Spooner
[iPNB secretary and chair of bylaws revisions committee]
Date: Sun Nov 10, 2002 1:25 pm
Subject: WBAI Unity Caucus bylaws proposal on Local Autonomy

Some of the Problems with the Unity Caucus Model and Proposal for Local Autonomy (attached):
[ Find the proposal HERE ]

1) Local boards are too large to function in the governance capacities the bylaws assign to them (up to 36 members under UC proposal). The iPNB straw poll limiting local boards to 18-24 total members (including 1/4 staff members) was based on the wisdom of many peoples' experience working on boards and committees.

2) All listener sponsor members do not have the right to vote for the same number of seats on the local boards, but only the same number of categories -- some categories have more seats.

3) The local members' voting rights can be changed by agreement of the local board and national board -- without the vote of approval of the members -- this is not only forbidden by the California non-profit law, but is also contrary to the strong sentiment expressed by the bylaws committees across the country that members' rights must be protected.

4) The essential thrust of the UC model is to divide the listener-sponsor membership by racial/ethnic/political interest/geographic voting categories. This will have several negative consequences:
a) a small number of voters in one category would have their vote "weighted" more heavily than a large number of voters in another ... e.g., if 50 voters vote in the "Immigrants" category (for one seat on the board) and 500 vote in the Latino category (for 2 seats on the board) ... the Immigrants' vote carries 5 times more weight than the Latino vote.
b) voters are required to register by categories prior to knowing who the candidates are ... e.g., an Asian Woman from Long Island might choose to register in the Asian and Long Island categories ... then, when the nominations are over, discover that she does not support any of the candidates running for the Asian (or Long Island) seat ... but she strongly supports someone who happens to be running for the Women's seat (or the Peace & Justice seat). Her choices then would be to vote for a candidate she does NOT support, or give up one of her votes.
c) While a small group of activists have proposed this idea, it is very likely that large numbers of WBAI subscribers -- of all races/ethnicities -- will find the requirement of identifying themselves by race offensive. (The fact that the WBAI Bylaws committee bitterly splintered over this proposal is indicative of a potentially strong negative reaction throughout the WBAI subscribers' community.) This could have serious consequences both in voter turnout and in financial support for the station.

5) It is ambiguous whether the "diversity" seats are required to be elected by listener-sponsors ... or whether voters in those categories might not be required to be listener-sponsor members?

6) If all the candidates of color choose to run for identified diversity seats, then it will not be possible to achieve racial balance on the board with the election of "at large" seats.

7) There are many technical problems with implementation of the UC model that have been written about by others ... including expense, difficulty/complexity of conducting 18 separate elections (for 18 separate constituencies), conducting in-person polling places, as opposed to mail ballots.

Problems With "Local Autonomy" and Leaving the National Bylaws Vague as to Local Board Election Methods:

1) It will be difficult for the Foundation to assure that elections are fair and properly conducted -- which is the legal responsibility of the Foundation -- this invites lawsuits challenging the validity of elections. Without clear requirements spelled out in the bylaws, there is no written standard to tell whether an election is properly conducted. Ambiguity leads to political manipulation. Clear rules let everyone know where they stand and what their voting rights are.

2) The UC "local autonomy" proposal would create different membership voting rights by station area. The fundamental basis of a membership nonprofit organization is the voting rights of the membership. The Foundation needs to be clear and consistent about defining those rights. No justification has been put forward for why the WBAI members' rights should differ from the KPFK members' rights, or any other station. What has been put forward is a proposal by a small group -- that may have the power on the local LAB to get it pushed through -- that is strenuously opposed by several hundred petition signers from the WBAI signal area. The wisdom of the national board approving something that would so deeply divide the WBAI community is doubtful.

3) This proposal, in order to meet the requirements of California non-profit law, would require that different classes of members be designated in the bylaws by station area -- and that any changes in the voting rights of a class of members would require the vote of approval of that class of members.

4) Over time, as the membership of the five stations modifies their local voting rights, there could be very considerable "drift" from manageable standards and elections methodologies, resulting in fractures within the Foundation as a whole -- and other unintended consequences.

5) The issue the WBAI UC proposal is intended to address -- constituencies choosing their own representatives -- is adequately addressed both by Proportional Representation voting and Cumulative Voting systems (as discussed in "The Miner's Canary" by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres). To the extent that a racial or ethnic group chooses to vote as a block on a racial/ethnic basis, those groups will most likely be able to elect representatives to the board -- particularly with the 50% minimum diversity requirements proposed under the KPFA model and endorsed and adopted by the KPFK Unity Committee, and particularly if strenuous outreach for candidates is done in various communities of color. The KPFA model -- voting by Proportional Representation with minimum diversity requirements for women and people of color -- has been applied through two election cycles. It has resulted in a local board with members spread out throughout the signal area, made up of people with diverse interests and backgrounds -- a Palestinian activist, a labor organizer, an immigrants' rights activist, a prisoners' rights advocate, a gay and lesbian community advocate, an national alternative radio activist, an indigenous rights activist ... three lawyers, a CPA, a technology expert, a Black radical newspaper publisher, peace activists, a youth activist ... and so on. The listenership elected these people without the imposition of constituency categories.

- "Unity Caucus" constituency model

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