An Asian Christian woman living in London blogging about the everyday issues of religion

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Finally-voting reform on General Synod's agenda

I stood for election to the House of Laity last year (I lost) and was appalled at the state of the voting system. Despite the best intentions of all those concerned, there were far too many barriers to the system being accessible to potential voters and to being a fair one to the candidates standing. Candidates weren't given an online platform from which to campaign. Candidates weren't able to canvass those who were eligible to vote. The link of visibility between voters and candidates was continually shrouded in mist. I mounted a mini one person campaign requesting that the voting system be changed to reflect the transparency and fairness that we seek in our electoral processes in a democratic country.
Well, a proposal has been made to General Synod by Tom Sutcliffe, one of the fine candidates I stood against, to introduce:
(a) the concept of electronic voting in elections after a consultation with the Electoral Reform Society; and
(b) to require all election addresses to be published on the candidates' own Diocesan websites.
Further to this, another proposal has been made by the London Diocese for a review to be carried out of the electoral system framework for election to the House of Laity and questioning whether persons other than lay members of the Deanery Synods ought to be given a right to vote.
There is an urgent need to demistify the process of getting into General Synod because it is the body which decides on the church's forward plan. Voter engagement is crucial to harnessing the voice of the millions who attend church every Sunday. Much of the challenges facing the Church for the next five years requires support at grassroots level (pew fillers). However, as reality stands, no ordinary church goer really feels that his or her voice is being heard at the top. Imagine if Parliament worked this way? It would be stalled democracy in action rather than a robust political system. Why then have we tolerated such an arcane system when it comes to our faith?

1 comment:

  1. I am Lay Chair of Southwark & Newington Deanery, member of Diocesan Synod, Bishop's Council, DBF, Audit Committee. I've been around for a while and in the last Synod was on the Business Committee. I only speak for myself, though.

    After the 2005 election, I queried why the period for nominations to be made was in July and August, as those are months when many people are on holiday and unreachable. I was told, "Them's the rules," basically. I think that any change in the way GS is elected should include some thought as to this timetable. It does mean that incumbent GS members have a better chance of finding people to nominate and second them.

    The second change I asked for was a change in the order that candidates are listed on the ballot. They were in alphabetical order, and I felt that this could give an advantage to people in the upper reaches of the alphabet. I was told that it was legal to pick an order number out of one hat and a candidate's name out of another, and list candidates in that way. This was done this year, and the result was that at least one person (a long-standing member) who was in the upper end of the alphabet was not returned.

    I am very leery about electronic voting. I am (in my other life, in a galaxy far, far away) a software testing manager and professional of about 25 years' standing. Electronic voting is very prone to fraud, software bugs, and other difficulties that make it unwise to use at this time. I am not saying that these problems may not be mitigated in future, and I am not saying that anyone would consider GS important enough to hack the servers that collected the votes. What I am saying is that electronic voting is not safe and secure enough to ensure that additional voting will take place and that it will be counted fairly.

    There are in-person hustings here in Southwark that are available for voters who wish to attend. They are not popular, either among the voters or the candidates, in my experience. I gather that the Clergy hustings was very well attended, but the Laity ones were not. I felt that I knew enough about the candidates to decide on my vote.

    I do not believe that this Synod, convulsed as it will be over woman in the episcopate and the Anglican covenant, as well as any fallout from Common Tenure, will be able to change the voting system much. I do think that candidates ought to be able to post online statements, and that the electorate ought to be thought about. I would favour Diocesan Synod members voting for General Synod rather than Deanery Synod members. Sounds more undemocratic, but members of Diocesan Synod (in consultation with their Deaneries) tend to be more clued in and better able to make judgments. Many Deanery Synod members are not as involved in Church politics and, frankly, are very interested in their local areas and perhaps their Diocese but not in the wider Church issues.

    The real problem here, which simple reorganisation of the voting method or jiggering around with the electorate will not solve, is this: how can the Church itself motivate the electorate to vote and vote wisely and well? I do not have an immediate answer to this.