Imagine that. In a meeting of followers of Christ membership and balloting relies heavily on individuals acting like, well, followers of Christ, exhibiting things like telling the truth, not being deceitful, following agreed upon rules, and the like.
#SBC21 was the most important annual meeting in a generation. The attendance was higher than it had been in over 25 years. The most important vote, the presidential election, had over 13,000 votes cast and the difference between winner Ed Litton and loser Mike Stone was only 556 votes.
How confident may we be about the outcome? What opportunity was there for fraudulent ballots? Was there a possibility of any individual manipulating the outcome?
My answers: We may be totally confident of the outcome. There are always opportunities for fraudulent ballots to be cast but there has never been proof of widespread improper balloting. There was virtually no opportunity for any individual to manipulate the outcome.
We Southern Baptists used to brag about how our annual meeting is the largest purely democratic assembly in the world. Who else throws 15,000 people in a room and tries to have a business meeting, votes for officers, budgets, policies, and the like?
Well, no sensible organization would attempt this but we have done it for over a century and amazingly, we’ve managed to make it work.
It depends on Southern Baptists behaving, being honest, and following the rules. It’s all on the honor system.
Almost all messengers preregister online. This has smoothed the process and has made it simple, quick, and easy to register at the convention, an essential step since that’s where you formally are enrolled as a messenger and receive your ballots.
- Online registration requires only that the registrant (or church official) log in their church ID number and give some basic information.
- Some giving information is programmed into the system from reported giving. Other SBC giving may be supplied by the church.
- No one checks the numbers.
- No one checks the membership status of the registering messenger.
- No one check the supplied name of the church clerk or moderator.
Messengers register physically, in person, at the convention.
- No ID is required. You hand the volunteer at the messenger registration station your online registration form and it is accepted. You do not have to prove that you are the person named on the preregistration form.
- There is abundant opportunity for fraud here, since anyone could present the paper and it’s not verified that you are the individual named therein.
- I am unaware of any accusations of fraudulent registrations at any SBCAM in my memory.
Balloting is simple. You have the ballots. You vote them.
- Rules prohibit proxy voting. You have to be present, in the hall at the time of voting, and vote your own ballot.
- I’ve heard a couple of instances where one person was observed voting more than one ballot. Since there is no age minimum to be a messenger (churches have an unquestioned right to send whomever they wish, even children), perhaps some dad votes his kids ballots. This would be unethical and possibly fraudulent according to our rules.
- You have to be present to vote. Presumably, a messenger who tries to drop his ballot in the bucket in the convention hallway while the tellers are carting the votes to the counting room would not be permitted to do so – in the hall when the vote is taken, voting your own ballots.
There are multiple opportunities for fraud and misbehavior but the system has worked for all these years. Granted, it is a 19th century system. Years ago, votes would be in the hundreds, a small number. In my lifetime we’ve had over 45,000 messengers at a convention. It seems likely that current controversies will push attendance back to higher numbers, over 15,000 this year, probably less next year at a distant location (California) but back to some southern cities (Charlotte, Dallas) soon where attendance would be more like this year.
In our present political climate, it seems both quaint and amazing that we have a simple system that works.
Some loud voices complain about election fraud on the Litton/Stone vote. Stone hasn’t complained and no one has proof. Fake news is with us always it seems.
See you, maybe, in Anaheim.
I understand that every single pastor who was in Nashville is on vacation this week. What a life! Paid expenses to the convention and then paid vacation. We retirees may be envious.