Vote with your feet: Are proxies fair?

By Marjorie Isaacson

There is no substitute for your participation. For that reason, I am proposing that EVA amend its bylaws to remove the paragraph in Article VI referring to proxy voting.

EVA made a controversial change in voting procedures in 1999, controversial because it was in opposition to long-established parliamentary procedures. (I can already see people reading this sentence, yawning or rolling their eyes, and moving on to the next article, but please bear with me).

The change was to amend the bylaws to allow voting in absentia – that is, being able to vote on an issue without being present at the meeting. I was opposed to the change at the time, and from observing the practice in the years that have followed, my opinion has not changed. For that reason, I am proposing that our bylaws be amended to remove the proxy voting and in so doing, again bring our organization’s procedures back in accord with the vast majority of large and small democratically run organizations.

The standard for holding public meetings is Robert’s Rules of Order, a book that was written by H.M. Robert in 1876. He was convinced that a rulebook was needed from his practical experience in holding meetings. The procedures are loosely based on those followed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but modified for ordinary societies. Most organizations, like EVA, stipulate that their meetings are governed by Robert’s Rules.

I’ve heard people complain that following Robert’s makes things too cumbersome or confusing. It’s distressing to hear this, because if this happens, it’s not Robert’s fault – it’s that the people who are in charge aren’t using the rules correctly. The purpose, and indeed beauty, of Robert’s is that it helps make sure that discussion and decisions are clear and fair.

Which brings us to proxy voting. Robert’s is quite adamant on this subject. I quote: “It is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law that the right to vote is limited to the members of an organization who are actually present at the time the vote is taken in a legal meeting”. Furthermore, “proxy voting is incompatible with the essential characteristics of a deliberative assembly in which membership is individual, personal and nontransferable.”

An essential point here is that an individual needs to be present for the discussion about an issue in order to make an informed decision on the vote. At our meetings, EVA goes to some trouble to provide a forum for stakeholders in issues to inform the public or make their case for an issue. We do everyone a disservice when we don’t demand that the people making decisions are present to hear them.

The bylaws amendment would be to remove the second paragraph of Article VI, the last sentence of Article X and the second sentence of Article XII.

On my reading of the bylaws, we cannot vote on it in February; amendments need to be introduced 29 days before they are voted on. Proposed amendments are either endorsed by the board or, if not endorsed, can be submitted with the petition of five members.

If you have any questions or comments on this, I’d be happy to speak with you: (773) 384-6088 or
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