Why wouldn’t all of us be in favor of expanding participation for voting for the SBC Annual Meeting by having satellite meetings, perhaps at your local Baptist associational office, where folks who can’t make the annual meeting in Dallas or Phoenix or Nashville or Indianapolis could cast their vote? It’s tough to address some populist ideas because the presumption of greater participation always puts you on the defensive, having to explain why more people voting is a bad idea.
Well, it is a bad idea but I offer a bit more about it. I have speculated about that as a way to increase attendance (Can’t get a crowd at the annual meeting?) which has been in the neighborhood of five to seven thousand for the last seven year or so. Orlando had 11,070 back in 2010, the last time the five-digit barrier was broken. Here’s a site that gives an attendance list for the last half-century.
The idea has been discussed here and elsewhere in the run-up to the convention this year in Dallas. Location makes a difference. There will be more in sultry Dallas than in overbaked Phoenix. Controversy and contention always bring out the Baptists as well. I haven’t seen any attendance predictions but will make a wild conjecture that attendance in Dallas will be 11,352. We’ll see what kind of prophet I am. Probably not so good.
Reaction to my March 17th article (Satellite SBC meetings and remote voting: The best terrible idea around) on the subject included a request from a commenter (Randy Seale) to see an Executive Committee study on the subject that I mentioned. I suggested he email the Executive Committee, which he did. He received some information and shared that with me. Here are some of the points made in that email from the Executive Committee.
The issue of annual meeting decentralization has been raised and examined by the Executive Committee many times, including in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997, etc. and most recently in 2011, which was reported to the Convention’s messengers in 2012. [For that report, see page 127-8 of the 2012 SBC Annual.] The Executive Committee declined to take further steps in this direction and offered these reasons:
- the simplicity of conducting business at a single site is preferable to the complexity of doing so via innumerable and complex off-site computer configurations;
the Convention has a continuing interest in positively affecting various regions of America with as great a physical presence of Southern Baptists as possible during the Convention’s annual meetings and ancillary events such as Crossover;
- the dependability of conducting business at a single site is superior to “distance” messenger participation because of the susceptibility of the technology to interruption or failure, which would negatively and significantly impact the meeting, its actions, and the relationships of those involved;
- the present “public” method of casting ballots involves some level of “in-person” and “eye-witness” assurance that ballots have been received and cast only by qualified messengers, and is therefore preferable to any other system which would permit an individual to receive and/or cast a ballot privately and electronically from a remote location without accountability;
- ministry and service opportunities and resources are now well-conveyed by high exhibitor participation, which would decline if attendance were to become less concentrated;
- fostering and strengthening relationships with and between various affinity groups that schedule their meetings to coincide with the Convention’s annual meeting is best accomplished by encouraging the physical presence of messengers;
- the funds required to undertake the study and then for any implementation would likely be substantial; and diverting missions offerings to pioneer the use of such technology (there being no known model for web-based constituent participation in any similarly-sized, deliberative body) would be an inappropriate prioritization.
The SBC has traditionally taken a course of great care and caution in adopting new paradigms, not wishing to invest ministry resources in untested or unproven methodologies before other organizations have worked through whatever challenges may exist (both anticipated and unexpected). Said a different way, the SBC has shown little interest in being a proving ground for innovation, deciding instead to be extremely frugal in applying its ministry resources (money), waiting to employ new processes until they have been thoroughly tested elsewhere.
…No similarly-sized, fully accessible and participative (open mics), parliamentary controlled and unscripted, deliberative body is yet known to have successfully adopted a multi-site format and maintained its character.
…It is probable that the issue will be formally raised by motion again in the future, but whether it is or is not, the EC will continue to have the possibility in its “peripheral vision” as technology advances.
My SBC colleagues may not like the Executive Committee’s response to distance voting but no one can complain that they have ignored the matter or that they will not respond to requests for information about such things. Randy Seale should be thanked for taking the time to ask. He got answers.