AFSA Election Gets Weird But Why You Still Need to Rock The Vote

Posted: 11:36 am EDT
Updated: 8:43 pm EDT
Updated: May 8, 10:57 am PST
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This is part 1 of a series of posts we hope to do during this election cycle.  The 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board elections are currently underway.  The AFSA Governing Board Election Campaign Messages were sent out on April 14.  AFSA’s election page says that the ballots and candidate statements were mailed on April 15, 2015. The ballots will be counted on June 4.  AFSA members (numbering over 16,000) have over six weeks just four weeks now to cast their ballots.

Below is a breakdown of AFSA members by constituency (dark blue) against total FS numbers (red). The dark blue shade in the pie charts constitute AFSA members.  The light blue are the members of the FS who are not union members. So for example, there are 13,984 active FS (State) personnel of which 10,664 are voting members of AFSA. If we add all the top numbers in dark blue, the numbers would total 16,207 AFSA members against the FS population of 32,012. A significant number of retirees are non-members of AFSA.

via AFSA 2014 Annual Report

via AFSA 2014 Annual Report (click image to see larger view)

 

So we went and looked at AFSA’s ballots page three days ago and we saw the following notice which left us scratching our head. AFSA members are notoriously hard to round up when it comes to casting their ballots. If there is already low turnout when paper ballots are mailed, how much lower can it potentially get if you leave it to members to request their ballots?  So we sent AFSA’s election committee an email asking if members, as the “click here to get your ballot” sign indicates, had to request their ballots before they get sent one.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.41.40 PM

May 3, 2015 3:41 PM (click for larger view)

 

On May 6th, we heard back from AFSA:

The information you may have received is incorrect so I am happy to help clarify. Members do not have to request a ballot in order to participate. Online voting instructions were mailed to all voting members of AFSA for whom we have a valid email address on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Retirees were mailed a printed ballot in addition to the online voting instructions and may select the most convenient voting method. Members may request a replacement ballot by “clicking here” on the AFSA website. In order to vote members needed to be members in good-standing by March 16th.

In 2012, AFSA membership approved the bylaw referendum to allow for introduction of “online ballots” and we amended our bylaws correspondingly. AFSA moved to a hybrid (both paper and online voting) Governing Board election in 2013 to increase voter turnout, which in the event was the result. In 2015, the Committee on Elections decided to mail all retirees printed ballots, in addition to the online voting option, in order to increase the effort of encouraging voter participation. AFSA does not have email addresses for all retirees, as some of our retired members simply do not have email addresses. All members, who have not yet voted, receive periodic reminders to cast their ballots. The AFSA Committee on Elections and the current AFSA Governing Board are committed to increasing voter participation.

For additional information on the 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board and Bylaw Amendment elections, please visit the AFSA elections page.

So two things from this response:

1) Active Foreign Service members were not mailed printed ballots but only provided online voting instructions. “Online voting instructions were mailed to all voting members of AFSA for whom we have a valid email address on Wednesday, April 15, 2015”

2) Retired Foreign Service members were mailed both printed ballots and instructions for online voting: “Retirees were mailed a printed ballot in addition to the online voting instructions and may select the most convenient voting method.”

Bonus point:  AFSA’s click here to get your ballot” notice has now been updated to say “when requesting a replacement electronic or printed ballot.”

“The information you may have received is incorrect …” does not cut it when there is a screen capture of what was actually posted online.  AFSA makes no claim that the notice was inadvertently done or a mistake, it simply changed it quietly and did not respond to our follow-up questions on this specific subject.

UPDATE: AFSA sent us a confirmation on #1 and #2 above and added this:

The AFSA staff added the word “replacement” to the website on Monday or Tuesday to reduce any confusion on behalf of visitors to the site who wonder, as you did, if they could vote. There was no change to the email address provided, only an attempt to clarify the voting eligibility. Those that contact the Committee on Elections at election@afsa.org are carefully vetted to ensure they were members in good standing by March 16th as indicated in the elections webpage)… 

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 8.15.51 PM

May 6, 2015 8:15 PM (click for larger view)

AFSA also said that “In 2015, the Committee on Elections decided to mail all retirees printed ballots, in addition to the online voting option, in order to increase the effort of encouraging voter participation.”

Hookay, Let’s Talk Voter Turnout

In 2009, AFSA had 13,905 dues-paying members and 23.91% of the membership voted.  Here’s a recap from our blogpost on the 2009 AFSA election:

Active-duty State employees are the largest voting bloc in AFSA at 63.3% of the total membership. In this election, State employees account for 1,459 of the total votes or 43% of the votes counted. However, 1,459 votes out of approximately 8,801 due-paying members amount to only 16.57% of this constituency. In short – only slightly more than 15% of active-duty State AFSA members sent in their votes.

Retirees are the second largest constituents of AFSA at 26.4% of the total membership. In this election, AFSA retirees account for 1,568 of the total votes or 47% of the votes counted. However, 1,568 retiree votes out of approximately 3,670 dues-paying retiree members amount to 42% of this constituency. In short – almost half the total AFSA retiree members sent in their votes.

Also read this: AFSA: Why Some Game Changers Are Needed Sooner Not Later

In the 2011 election,  the AFSA website indicates dues-paying members of over 15,000.   Only about 17% of the members voted in that 2011 DOL-OLMS-supervised election.  

In 2013 about 22% of AFSA members cast their ballots. Most candidates ran unopposed. The top two candidates for State Vice President were separated by a mere 97 votes.

We’ve asked AFSA for election stats in the last four AFSA elections: 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 but we have not heard anything back. We only have the breakdown of the election turnouts by constituency in the 2009 election. Retired SFSO David Jones who did an autopsy of the 2009 election did write that the turn out for the 2007 election was 20%.

So the 2009 election had the highest turn out in the last four AFSA elections.  In that contested election, 16.57% of active duty FS members voted while 42% of retired FS members voted.

UPDATE:  With regards to the election stats, AFSA told us, “We do not publish election statistics on the AFSA website, nor do we provide that information to anonymous sources.” 

Whoopsie!  Hey, quit laughing over there. This is rather laughable. Because … why not? What legitimate reason is there for the election statistics not to be public record? Shouldn’t AFSA membership learn what kind of turnouts they have every election? Wouldn’t drilling down the numbers help with voter engagement?  Maybe we should sign-up again for membership just so we can ask for it?

You Go, Rock the Vote!

Unless the voting trend had significantly changed in the 2011 and 2013 elections, retired FS members actually vote in larger numbers than active duty FS members. Since AFSA wants to improve voter participation, wouldn’t it make more sense to give active FS members both paper and electronic voting options  just like retired members? Afterall, over 80% of active FS members do not vote in these elections.

Mr. Jones wrote of the retiree voting bloc: “AFSA remains a bifurcated organization.  It is hardly a harbinger for effective action as an exclusive bargaining agent when Retirees vote more heavily than active duty personnel.  That some of our “best and brightest” are so indifferent says more about AFSA than about the FS community.”

This is not to say that retirees should not have a voice in the direction of the organization or that AFSA should not seek to improve voter participation.

Yes, we sound like a broken record but  —  the active members of the Foreign Service, as the largest voting bloc and as the folks who have been repeatedly deployed to warzones, hardship/unaccompanied and dangerous assignments in the last decade, and who will continue to deploy to increasingly challenging assignments in the years ahead — they need to have their voices heard in a stronger collective voice.  And – they won’t have their voices heard unless the active Foreign Service members, participate in greater number in the process of picking their own representatives.

So we are urging active FS members who read this blog to not just vote, but vote and commit to improving voter participation this election cycle.  Fill out and mail your ballot, then reach out to two colleagues to remind them to fill out and cast their ballots.

What these elections show is that even if only 22% of the membership cast their ballots every two years, AFSA still operates as the professional association and recognized labor union of 100% of its Foreign Service members. In essence, the priorities of 1/5 of its membership, the minority who actually votes, becomes the priorities for all, including the majority who doesn’t.

Next:  A Most Polite Campaign, and The Questions  Not Asked  … or something like that.

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2 responses

  1. While it is probably true that retirees vote in higher percentages than active duty people, it should also be pointed out that retirees can only vote for the top positions (President, Secretary, Treasurer. Retiree VP). Active duty people vote for their agency VP, and their agency reps. Agree that the voting method should be the same for everyone, but not sure this will result in a better turnout. Otherwise, though, you’re right — active FS people should more actively participate in AFSA affairs.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. Not sure either if it would make a difference in turn out but the voting options should be the same for all constituencies. I understand the move to electronic voting but also think that AFSA probably needs to run both options for a couple election cycles before ditching the paper ballots for active FS, if it really needs to do that.