I originally wrote this article on June 21, 2010, back when Matt Svoboda was still the kingpin at this site. My views have done nothing but strengthen. Since the advent of the internet, the chorus of voices calling for regional voting sites or internet voting at home has become stronger. I am editing that old article and updating it.
I understand the reasons people advocate for the inclusion of internet voting – either at regional sites or in the privacy of your own home at your own computer.
- Travel is expensive. It costs a lot of money to go to the convention and that leaves people out.
- Taking time off to go to the convention is a burden on a lot of people – laypersons, bi-vocational pastors, etc.
- Attendance is declining and this would certainly allow messenger registration to rise.
- With the technology available today, it seems hidebound and traditionalist to refuse to go to off-site voting. We need to move into the 21st Century.
If you have other reasons, please put them in the comments – these are the ones I’ve seen argued most often. This year, the EC is bringing a proposal that will allow some form of electronic voting ON SITE. I’m not clear on what that will mean. I assume it means we’ll vote by smart phone through the app we’ve used the last few years. Those who support offsite voting are convinced that a) it is logical, practical and preferable and b) it is inevitable. Resistance is futile!
Well, here’s one old codger who remains opposed to the idea of internet voting. Maybe those who say it is inevitable are right, but it will pass either after I’m gone or over my “no” vote. I will write against it and speak against it and hope that I can convince some of you to join me on the Old Codgers team. Let me share some reasons I do not think it is a good idea.
1) The Theoretical Thought:
Most churches have rules against proxy or absentee balloting. This roots in a long-standing belief that God leads when the Body of Christ comes together. No, the SBC gathered is not a church, I understand that. But that is the principle – God’s people gathered, discussing his business, seeking his will. Yeah, yeah, it is an “ideal” that often does not come to fruition in the real.
But just because the real does not match the ideal does not mean we ought to abandon the ideal entirely. Maybe there are ways we can do it better, but as we gather together and discuss things together, the hope is that the Spirit of God will draw us together in unity, that the wisdom of God will be seen by those gathered together.
I see internet voting as an abandonment of that ideal, a giving-in, a surrender to predetermined outcomes and power politics.
While I think this is important, I also realize that it is likely the least convincing of the reasons to those who do not see the SBC in a positive light or to those who are convinced of the need for internet voting.
2) The Practical Problem:
You simply can’t get the same perspective when you watch something on the internet that you get when you are in the room.
I remember a very tense debate and vote. Afterwards, there was a discussion here at Voices. Someone who had watched the session online opined that the vote was very close – in the neighborhood of 52-48. Anyone sitting in the room knew immediately which side had the most orange cards. Estimates gave the majority in the 65-35 to 75-25 range, with best guesses at 70-30. In the room, it was clear. Online, not so much.
You simply cannot get the full flavor of the discussion, the tone and tenor of all that goes on, unless you are there. If you are watching online, you see what the cameraman and editors choose to show you. Your judgment becomes shaped by someone else’s editorial decisions.
The general opinion is that the razor-thin margin of the Kennedy-Nixon election was affected by their televised debate, the first in history. Kennedy wore a little makeup, Nixon did not and looked pasty. Did that change the course of history? Many think it did. Would not the advent of offsite voting put power into the hands of those who control the telecast, those who govern what goes over the live stream?
3) The Isolation Issue:
We are already a fragmented and fractured denomination. If we allow offsite conventions, one of a few negative things will happen.
We will be even more regionally separated than we are now. All us Midwest folks will gather in KC or Omaha or Chicago. The west coast folks will hang in LA or Phoenix or Denver. I’m guessing the main site will be in the big Southern cities in this scenario. This will tend to marginalize us even more and centralize power. Can someone from the North Central site in Ann Arbor, Michigan, be nominated for President?
Or, if we have “do-it-yourself” offsite voting, I foresee places where people gather with like-minded folks to vote as blocks. There will be enclaves of this view or that, all cloistered in their own little separate monasteries. The SBC will become even more divided than it is now.
One of the things that has happened to me through the years at conventions is that I became friends with people I did battle with on blogs. The isolationism of offsite voting would lead to further fracturing, splintering and balkanization of the SBC.
4) The Integrity Issue:
To me, this is among the biggest issues. Would that it were not so, but I am afraid that the deceitfulness of the human heart makes it so.
To vote at the SBC, you have to have credentials. You have to have ballots. If I held up 10 sets of ballots, everyone around me would see it. I am guessing that there are people every year who punch their wife or husband’s ballot while they are in the bathroom, or engage in some other form of electoral skullduggery.
But offsite voting, especially home voting, opens the door wide. All I have to do is qualify for 10 messengers (most churches do), register them online, then sit at my office and vote all 10 proxies.
No one would do that, right? You think not? I wish that I didn’t believe that there would be electoral cheating, but I am afraid there would be. Is there a way around that? I don’t know. One vote per IP? Some of you computer-expert young whippersnappers might have a solution.
The vast majority of SBC pastors and laypersons are honest. But we ought not institute a system that opens the door for abuse and cheating. I think the people of my church are honest, but our financial accounting system has checks and balances to keep them honest. We don’t leave cash out on the communion table to tempt people and demonstrate their honesty. We trust people, but we also put in a system that has accountability.
Regional site voting would not have this problem, but home voting would be a temptation that a few could not resist.
5) The Fellowship Factor:
I look forward to the convention primarily for the fellowship. Last year, our gathering at the Cheesecake Factory was my favorite 3 or 4 hours of the week. The business sessions and the Pastors Conference have their purpose, but what I like the most is hanging out and talking to people, sharing meals.
I’m a little bitter that I’ve still not won any of the iPad drawings, but I’m working through that. I got to know Dwight McKissic fellowshiping at a convention. I made friends with men with whom I had crossed swords on blogs. Last year I hung out a lot with Todd Benkert, Brent Hobbs, even Tarheel Cline. CB Scott wasn’t there, but when he is I spend a lot of time at whatever booth he is manning shooting the breeze and solving world problems.
I leave the meeting house feeling like I’m part of something I want to be part of, something I want to see succeed. I doubt I’d sit in my office and click in my votes. I’m not sure I’d travel to KC (unless the Yankees were in town) or some other regional site to watch it on the big screen. But I love being a part of what is going on. I love live-blogging. I love hanging out in the display area and signing up for the iPads and all of that.
The convention is such a small part of why I go to the convention.
Here’s my theory. I don’t think remote participation is going to help that much.
- If you have regional sites, you still have travel, hotels, meals, etc. The costs and time away are still factors. Maybe less, but still there.
- If you have private voting, you have the boredom factor. Be real! How many people are going to sit at their computers and pay attention to the SBC except during the controversial issues? There might be spikes of higher participation, but I’m more likely to be engaged if I’m at the site, not sitting at home or in my office.
I think the advantages are overblown and the disadvantages are real. JUST SAY NO to offsite, regional and internet voting!
What are your reasons for being for (if you are on the WRONG side of this discussion) or against (if you share my CORRECT view) internet, remote, regional or offsite voting? What say you?