Electronic voting reforms Jurisdictional Conference

July 14, 2016

By: Leintz Belony, Indiana Conference

PEORIA, Illinois—Introduced officially at the 2016 Jurisdictional Conference, handheld electronic voting devices have made plenary voting a much faster, simpler, and more efficient process.

As the legislative body of the 12th North Central Jurisdictional Conference gathered at the Peoria Civic Center, it was expected that some things would be different as compared to the last episcopal election in 2008 (there were no bishop elections in 2012). Though it soon became apparent that with the implementation of electronic voting systems to elect leaders of The United Methodist Church, the selection process would experience a dramatic shift in dynamic.

In previous elections, breaks would have to be allotted after each balloting session to allow for votes to be counted and results to be updated. For episcopal nominees and delegates, this was the perfect occasion to connect with peers, discuss strategy, and draw potential balloting outcomes. But ultimately, this made the selection process unnecessarily long and arduous.

Matthew Bader, a 21-year-old lay delegate from the Dakotas Conference, said that the shortened turnaround time is one of the elements he appreciates most about the electronic voting process. “You don’t have to wait, break for 30 minutes and then come back for the results,” he said. Electronic votes can be gleaned and posted live within minutes, minimizing lag time considerably. Bader, who attended the 2016 General Conference, noticed the change in turnaround time there as well.

Rev. Rebecca Trefz, director of ministries in the Dakotas Conference, echoed Bader. “I appreciate its clarity, its expediency, and the fact that it allows us to be good stewards of our time,” she said. On mechanics, Trefz appreciates the user-friendly features of the handheld voting device because it's easy to manage, reliable in terms of it producing accurate results, and flexible, allowing users to correct their errors discreetly.

NCJ Conference Secretary Paul White said that so far, he’s received encouraging feedback regarding the new voting system, which has worked well and helped move the process along. In terms of not having longer having any lag time between ballots, White said that with strategized changes to the schedule, organizers have been able to create a happy medium for the jurisdictional voting body and still provide some time for socialization and strategizing.

In looking ahead to the 2020 Jurisdictional Conference set to take place in Indiana, White said the voting process “depends largely on the organizing committee,” adding that Indiana has used a similar system, but we’ll have to gauge their preferences and decide what works best for the voting body.”

Technology as a whole has rapidly become a centerpiece of United Methodist gatherings, from social media and mobile networking to live streaming, text updates, and even the use of Slack, an internal communications tool designed to support proactive, team-focused conversations. Needless to say, the ways in which United Methodist organizations communicate with members and the outside world have changed dramatically. By 2020, who knows what we'll be using.

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