Thinking Anglicans

Elections Review Group – part 2

The second part of the Business Committee’s response to the Election Review Group’s report is in GS 1906. The group’s report itself is in GS 1901.

This second part considers

  • changing the electorate for the House of Laity; and
  • introducing an online facility for nominations and voting in respect of elections to the General Synod.

Unlike the topics in the first part, where the Business Committee is bringing draft legislation to Synod, the committee is initiating a debate to seek Synod’s views on whether any changes should be made, and if so what form the legislation should take.

Electorate for the House of Laity

At present General (and diocesan) Synod lay members are elected by lay members of deanery synods. The Bridge Commission in 1997 proposed instead a specially elected electoral college, although it should be noted that as they proposed the abolition of deanery synods in their present form they had to propose some alternative electorate. But General Synod at the time rejected both these proposals.

In 2011 Synod passed a motion asking for alternatives to be considered.

As a result the Election Review Group looked at five options. Apart from the fourth option (which nobody in the group supported), the same electorate would also be used for elections to diocesan synods.

  1. present system – all elected lay members of deanery synods
  2. electoral college – members to be elected by parishes at their annual meetings
  3. all elected lay members of PCCs
  4. all lay members of diocesan synods
  5. universal suffrage – all members of parish electoral rolls

The Group’s report (in GS 1901) lists the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The Business Committee’s preference is for an electoral college (option 2 above) and the motion before Synod asks for legislative proposals to be brought forward. But if Synod prefers another option it can amend (and pass) the motion.

If any changes to the present system are agreed they could not come into effect in time to be used in the 2015 elections to General (and diocesan) Synod, and it is likely that they would be first used in 2018 for diocesan synods and in 2020 for General Synod.

Online elections

At present elections to General Synod are almost entirely paper based. Although nominations can be submitted by fax they must be confirmed by submitting the paper original within three days of the closing date. Voting is by paper ballot. The Business Committee had been advised that it is technically feasible to conduct the whole process online. Email nominations could be in place in time for 2015, but electronic voting would take longer to put in place, and could not be used until 2020. The motion from the Business Committee will ask Synod to endorse these proposals.

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Tim ChestertonErika BakerFeriaPete BroadbentBernard Silverman Recent comment authors
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Leon
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Leon

Did the business committee give any reasons why they preferred an electoral college to universal suffrage? I’m fairly sure everyone outside the Anglican corridors of power considers universal suffrage really obvious.

(And I can’t help feeling this isn’t the right century for debates about the merits of universal suffrage)

Helen
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Helen

The tiny number of electors perhaps explains why the Southern Universities “elected” a synod member who strongly argued against the Women Bishops measure and then voted against it. The state got rid of rotten boroughs nearly two centuries ago.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“Did the business committee give any reasons why they preferred an electoral college”

The more opaque the mechanism, the easier it is to control the outcome and the less accountability there is. Electoral colleges are perfect for organisations that distrust democracy.

Simon Kershaw
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I can’t see any advantages to an electoral college, especially an electoral college over deanery synods. The point about deanery synods is that they do meet (cue jokes) and that means that the members have a chance to know a little bit about each other. A college which probably never met (since elections would likely be by post and then electronically) is hardly going to provide better accountability. It will just mean people vote with even less knowledge about who they are voting for. Similar arguments apply against universal suffrage. The current indirect system does allow everyone on a parochial… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Totally agree with the foregoing.

Having regional electoral bodies that actually do meet encourages actual debate and deliberation, which is what we want and need.

And indeed an electoral college would be the death of accountability.

Peter Owen
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Perhaps our Anglican readers outside England could post a comment explaining how the lay representatives on their governing body are elected/chosen/appointed. Do any of them use “universal suffrage”?

Philip Hobday
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Philip Hobday

I’m not myself persuaded by the ‘electoral college’ idea, but the Business Committee do offer reasons: (1) that a number of key lay leaders such as churchwardens may not wish to commit also to Deanery or Diocesan Synod membership, thus making the latter bodies less representative of the laity than they might be. (2) if the electoral body is simply all those on the electoral roll then that might be perceived as quite a low level of commitment and parishes can differ wildly in how much they encourage/discourage folk to join the roll. I’m not persuaded by it, but it… Read more »

Philip Hobday
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Philip Hobday

I am not sure ‘rotten borough’ is a fair description – ‘anachronism’ would be better. I believe these constituencies (declaring an interest – I am in one!) arose for two reasons. 1. Until relatively recently, clergy in historic positions connected with universities (such as chaplains / academics in a theology faculty) did not generally hold a Bishop’s licence. They were excluded from the electorate for diocesan clergy for that reason. 2. There was some (I think sensible) desire to help incorporate academic theologians into the Synod. Given that the first of these needs could be met otherwise (by transferring university… Read more »

Feria
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Feria

It’s rather disappointing that GS1901 contains no proposals for doing anything to improve the completeness of the electoral rolls themselves. It makes little sense to talk about “universal suffrage” when only around 10% of the believing Anglicans in England are on the Church electoral rolls.

Helen
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Helen

Actually I didn’t say that Philip. The result of the Southern Universities’ voting system is curious, however, considering that all these universities presumably have equality policies in place. And since no-one seems to know for sure who the electorate is or anything about it except that it’s tiny, “rotten borough” seems a fair analogy.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Feria,
I’m intrigued that you should say that the electoral roll does not reflect the number of believing Anglicans. It certainly reflects the number of those attending church. It is completely renewed in an open and public process every 5 years and no-one who wants to be included is left off.

Isn’t it rather that the ER reflects the actual membership of the church more truly than any other method of counting?

Bernard Silverman
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Bernard Silverman

On University representation, I used to be the Southern Universities rep (2000-2003). I do not see any case for these special constituencies, because under STV the electors would have the same clout if transferred into their diocesan constituency. So if (say) all the Oxford University voters voted within the Oxford diocesan constituency, then they could elect “one of their own” if they all voted for her/him. It would be necessary, I presume, to reconsider the size of those constituencies which had a significant influx of voters. I would have put the same argument had I remained on GS one more… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
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Bernard Silverman

Now on electronic voting.

The idea that it would take seven years to institute electronic voting is ridiculous. I’d have thought that the right competent software company could do it in about seven months/weeks/days/minutes.

When I was on GS about ten years ago I suggested that GS itself should use electronic voting instead of walking through lobbies. The idea was pooh-poohed. Now, however, how does GS vote?

Feria
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Feria

Erika: ‘Feria, I’m intrigued that you should say that the electoral roll does not reflect the number of believing Anglicans. It certainly reflects the number of those attending church.’ That’s exactly the problem. Most of the Anglicans in England only attend Church a couple of times a year, and quite a few don’t attend at all. To some extent, that was built into the structure of the CofE from the start: remember “three times in the year, of which Easter to be one”. But the frequency of attendance among believers has dropped dramatically in recent decades, which may suggest that… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Feria, I have been thinking about your comment and I’m not sure I agree. In our political system everyone, whether politically active or not, has a vote. There are many reasons why people do not attend church. But by asking for their name to be added to the Electoral Roll they are expressing a positive interest in it. Any other process that was not based on self-selection would risk being very arbitrary. Do we count only people who attend church a minimum number of years? If so, what do we do about the long term ill? Do we count those… Read more »

Pete Broadbent
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Pete Broadbent

Given the disdain that people in the UK express towards the US system of electing their Presidents via electoral college, it’s astounding that the Business Committee are arguing for such an oblique mechanism. It’s the usual civil servant approach – “it’s too difficult to administer, so we can’t possibly recommend universal suffrage.” The time has come for a reform that would change the CofE properly, with universal suffrage for the House of Laity (we already do it for Clergy) – and let’s elect our bishops, too, just like they do in the rest of the Communion.

Feria
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Feria

Dear Erika, Well, what I’d do if I were a PCC electoral roll officer is something like the following: – every three months or so, flick through the parish baptismal register to find baptized persons who have reached voting age in the preceding three month period; – contact those persons in writing, to invite them to register to vote through the existing formal process (note: no changes in ecclesiastical law required); – make it clear that, in the spirit of the existing law on church electoral registration, there would be no strings attached: no doctrine test, no minimum frequency of… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Feria, thank you. I assume that churches already encourage their young adult members to join the Electoral Roll. What is the rationale behind inviting people to become voting members of the church who have not shown any interest in their church just because they were baptised 18 years previously and might still live in the parish? Don’t we want to make sure that all those who do feel close to church are given the opportunity to vote without adding those who aren’t really bothered at all? Do you not see danger in both extremes – including only real activists and… Read more »

Feria
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Feria

Dear Erika, I’d make seven points in response to that… Firstly: how do we know that the reason those young (and not-so-young: to avoid age discrimination, there should initially be retrospectivity in the mining of the baptismal registers that I proposed) people aren’t in touch with the Church is a lack of interest, rather than that they’re voting with their feet against our current ecclesiological and liturgical practices? The only way we’ll ever find out for sure is to give them the opprtunity to vote with ballot papers rather than with their feet. Secondly: it is not normal in a… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Feria, thank you. That does make a lot of sense. I am not yet 100% convinced. Because while people who are not political activists nevertheless are aware of what goes on in their country through papers, TV etc., those who never attend church have absolutely no idea of what we do in there. They would not, on the whole, know about our ecclesiology, our music, our sermons and our practices and the only idea of church they are likely to have comes from the official pronouncements of the CoE and of passionate Christians lobbying in public for this, that or… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘Perhaps our Anglican readers outside England could post a comment explaining how the lay representatives on their governing body are elected/chosen/appointed. Do any of them use “universal suffrage”?’ Peter, in Canada our GS lay members are elected at diocesan synods. GS meets once every three years. In some dioceses (especially northern ones, where geography is enormous and meetings very expensive) diocesan synods are also very infrequent (once every two or three years). One advantage of this is that it means that the time required of a synod delegate is much less than in England, thus opening lay membership to a… Read more »