By Najwa Eidda and Garry Sran
Electronic voting has long been a topic of discussion in CUPE 3903, but it never seems to go anywhere – until now. Recently, rank-and-file members have circulated this petition (feel free to sign – we have!), which argues for improving the accessibility of union meetings and the decision-making process. In just a few weeks, it has already attracted hundreds of signatures and sparked a more serious discussion about electronic voting and the concrete steps it would take to create a secure and reliable system in our local.
In other instances, electronic voting comes up in response to the toxicity that is widespread in union spaces. By “toxicity,” we don’t mean disagreement or dissent. In our union – especially on a university campus – we should welcome and encourage those things, as part of the free exchange of ideas. By toxicity, we mean a hostile, unfriendly, and unwelcoming environment in which members don’t feel safe sharing their opinions or participating in discussion. Without a plan to combat the toxicity, members sometimes feel as if the only way to participate is electronically – by physically removing themselves from hostile union spaces.
We believe that electronic voting has the potential to improve the accessibility of union meetings and the decision-making process in 3903. We also believe that the right kind of system could help us combat toxicity in the local, even if it’s just one step in a much bigger process that challenges all forms of oppression and bullying in the union. But how we implement electronic voting, and what kind of shared vision of it that we can develop together, really matters. If we’re serious about such a project, we have to get it right and take the time to make it work.
In this article, we would like to contribute to that process by sharing our vision for a progressive, accountable, and democratic system of electronic voting in 3903. These are just suggestions to get the ball rolling, and we hope that members will feel free to respond to share their ideas, too.
First, let’s begin by discussing what electronic voting should not be. We oppose a system in which members would be completely isolated from one another, unable to debate or discuss ideas or proposals, or disengaged from the broader union. Electronic voting should be much more than simply registering an online vote on this or that question.
As members of the #BetterUnion team, we share a progressive vision of electronic voting that would bring members together, not drive them apart; improve accessibility on multiple levels; and increase the opportunity for members to participate and shape the direction of the union.
So what would such a system look like? The key to creating what we need is less about the technical aspects of it (that part is easy), and more about keeping in mind the goals that electronic voting should support: accessibility, accountability, democracy, equity, and transparency.
On accessibility, we need a system that is easy for all members to access, whether members with disabilities, members who can’t always be physically present in union meetings, or members with child or elder care responsibilities. We need a system that is based on a comprehensive accessibility audit.
On accountability, we need a system that allows members to be accountable to one another in all the decisions we make, and to share and generalize these decisions more widely. This will make it easier to assess our collective work from one meeting to the next, and to learn from our successes and mistakes.
On democracy, we need a system that maximizes participation, and that involves more members in all levels of decision-making in the union. We need a system that creates spaces for members’ input on both the long-term trajectory of our local, and its day-to-day functioning.
On equity, we need a system that is aware of and seeks to remove the structural barriers that limit or prevent the participation of equity-seeking groups in our local. We need a system that is truly inclusive, not only in bringing members to the table, but also in facilitating their full participation.
And on transparency, we need a system that is easy to navigate and operate, that securely and reliably registers our views, that may be regularly audited by an independent third party, and that builds our members’ confidence to participate in the process. We need a system that is both politically and technologically sound.
If all these values could be the guiding principles in developing a system of electronic voting, we will more than likely achieve the system that best fits our local.
How could all that work in practice?
In practice, there are many exciting possibilities for electronic voting, many of them the result of emerging platforms and applications for online communication. These advances allow us to raise our horizons and expand our imaginations about the kind of things a system of electronic voting could do. For example, we believe that whatever system we create should be able to do the following:
- Allow members to vote electronically in elections and by-elections for the Executive Committee and the Bargaining Team: the process of engagement during the two-week campaigning period would remain, but the act of actually casting a ballot could be done remotely, to include members who can’t physically be on or travel to campus, are out of town doing research or working, have other commitments that limit their time, and so on.
- Allow members to participate in General Meetings and other union meetings (town halls, Stewards’ Council, union committees, etc.) without being on campus: the technology exists for members to watch a live stream of a meeting, indicate their desire to speak, make contributions to the discussion (both to influence it and be influenced by it), and be aware of others who are participating – almost as if they were in the room. Votes on motions could include those in the room and those online. In order to ensure that only members participate online, a secure registration system could be established for members to sign in to meetings, the way they would show a union card or register in person in other circumstances.
- Conduct easy and accessible online surveys of the members on a regular basis: this could include more comprehensive bargaining surveys during bargaining years that efficiently organize members’ responses into databases; regular surveys about conditions of work that help the union quickly identify common and unique problems facing members in each department (overwork, harassment, health-and-safety, etc.); surveys about short-term decisions, such as what kind of social should the union organize this semester, or where should it host the next General Meeting; or surveys that help the Executive Committee prepare agendas for upcoming meetings, identifying key issues and debates in the union.
If such a system is possible, then how could we get it?
“We believe that the best system of electronic voting is one that is collectively developed and proposed by the members themselves – so that the widest section of the membership feels confident about and ownership over whatever they propose.”
As we suggested above, the technical part is not that difficult, since the technology already exists for these processes. Our biggest challenge on this front would be narrowing our range of choices to the system that best addresses our local’s needs.
The harder part is the political aspect: how we actually go about building support throughout the union for a system of electronic voting. We believe that the best system is one that is collectively developed and proposed by the members themselves – so that the widest section of the membership feels confident about and ownership over whatever they propose. We believe that the union should launch an open process of consultation that allows us enough time to hear from members from all parts of the union; to identify their needs and track their suggestions; to review and amend the current bylaws that address meetings and voting; and to develop a timeline that includes concrete goals towards implementation.
To that end, we will be giving notice of motion at today’s Annual General Meeting for the creation of a Working Group on Electronic Voting that could take on these and other tasks that are related to proposing a secure and reliable system that addresses our members needs and concerns – just the first step in getting things started. As members of the #BetterUnion team, we are fully committed to supporting such a process of consultation and to implementing the recommendations of the members. This discussion represents the best opportunity in a long time for the membership as a whole to engage in a meaningful collective process about the future of our union: how it can be more accessible, accountable, democratic, equitable, and transparent. We are confident that, among our members, we have the skills, the vision, and the commitment to make this happen.
If we do it right, this could be a truly transformative moment for CUPE 3903. We hope you’ll be a part of it!
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