Thoughts on the 2015 PASS Election

We had a decent election this year. Thanks to all four candidates – Argenis Fernandez, Jen Stirrup, Ryan Adams, and Tim Ford – for participating, and congratulations to Jen, Ryan, and Tim for being elected. PASS surely can’t survive without volunteer leaders and it’s great to see that we continue inspire members to higher levels of involvement. I also want to thank the 2015 NomCom; Bill Graziano, Lori Edwards, Grant Fritchey, Robert Davis, and Bob Pusateri. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s important work. Thanks also to Janice Simpson at PASS HQ for all the detail work that goes into supporting the NomCom and the election.

Last year I served on the NomCom, so this year I watched with perhaps greater than usual interest to see how the election would go. I have a bunch of thoughts on what worked and what could perhaps work better. I offer these in the hopes that they can be used constructively to improve the process while understanding that the process will never be perfect, or done.

Regional Seats. The way we handle this is awkward. If you read the 2015 guidance and go to the section titled “Process for Awarding Board of Director Seats” you can see the way seats are awarded. It’s documented – that’s good. The challenge is that when you vote the ballot is just names without the information on the regional seats. Pasting/linking to the guidance won’t fix that. Read this analysis by Rick Heiges to see someone try to translate it to plain text. I remain ambivalent about regional seats, but I’m not advocating we change that. We should change the ballot, and perhaps the voting rules with regards to regional seats.

Candidate Webinars. This year each candidate was online for 30 minutes with NomCom Chair Bill Graziano asking questions. Some were his, some were provided by webinar attendees. I liked this better than anything we’ve tried so far. It allowed me to focus on a candidate and made far better use of time than having one candidate answer while the others tried to look interested (last year). I think it would be very useful for someone who didn’t know a candidate.

All the candidates did ok.  All tended to run long and ramble some, not unexpected given the format – just a different dynamic than delivering a presentation. Recordings were made available the next day, that seemed to work out fine.

I don’t have attendance numbers, but I’ve heard they were not great. I don’t know how many watched the recordings either. Numbers aren’t the whole story of course. It’s important that we give voters a chance to engage with the candidates (in various ways). The question is – for those that watched, was it useful? More so if you didn’t know a candidate?  I hope PASS polls on this some.

Scoring. This was the first year we went with ratings over rankings, a decision we agonized/argued over last year. I thought it worked as intended and gives the voter more data to consider. Did it make a huge difference? I don’t know. I’d guess no. I’ve heard no negatives on it so far.

Rules. We amended the rules last year with regards to use of PASS mailing lists. In the 2015 guidance see “Campaign Rules” for the details. We were trying to thread the needle [Note: the following is my interpretation, I don’t speak for the NomCom, this year or last year] by limiting what PASS lists can be used for (in particular we’re wary of an incumbent using PASS resources to get re-elected) but recognizing that Chapter Leaders (CL) are a special case. It’s not realistic to tell a CL they cannot talk to their members about their candidacy.  It’s not a simple topic. It’s really not a simple topic.

For all of that, we failed by not educating everyone on the rule amendment (I didn’t include in my own notes about the 2014 NomCom either). Going forward I’d like to see all rule changes discussed at a Town Hall as a minimum.

The rule caused pain this year because Candidate A asked another member of a Chapter to send out an email to the chapter list promoting his candidacy. Candidate B objected to the NomCom, then publicly on Twitter, which sparked a heated debate conducted without a reference to the rules. It took a while for the NomCom to respond that they were working on a response and then more time for their official response to be posted. The finding, which I agree with, is that Candidate A had complied with the rules.

This raises a bunch of issues:

  • The NomCom has to be available and responsive during the voting period. If the Chair isn’t available, who can speak on their behalf?
  • If Candidate A had violated the rule it wasn’t time sensitive (in hours at least) because the emails had already been sent.
  • Candidates lodging a complaint have to be given some idea of when a response will be given
  • Candidate A could have in turn complained about Candidate B unfairly hurting his candidacy by saying he did something wrong publicly that turned out to be incorrect
  • Taking it a step further, imagine the email wasn’t sent out at the request of Candidate A. We could have had the situation where A was blamed publicly – in a way that might well impact votes cast – only to have it turn out they were not at fault.

I understand the confusion and the frustration this generated, especially since we couldn’t quickly point to the rules (they are in the application). I was disheartened by how quickly it turned into an anti-PASS thing and by how quickly Candidate A was castigated for what was being called a breach of ethics by others in the community. I don’t have all the answers. The NomCom tries hard to get it right. The PASS Board tries hard to get it right. The candidates try hard to get it right.  I don’t want this to be blood sport or the equivalent of Constitutional law. We certainly have the right and the obligation to complain if something isn’t right, or even going well, but we have to be mindful about the personal impact. It can’t be entirely avoided (we can’t just criticize “PASS”).

Will the rule survive? I don’t know. I believe that it’s healthy for candidates to ask for endorsements. I’m not thrilled about “campaign ads” being sent out without a header/disclaimer. I’m not at all eager to see more rules added. My favorite part of rule #5 is decidedly gray:

“The PASS NomCom believes that the candidates who hold leadership positions within PASS have achieved this position by serving the community. We expect they will honor the spirit of this rule.”

Number of Candidates. We had four candidates this year. Two incumbents, new ones, competing for three positions, with a fourth vacancy effective January 1, 2016. Good candidates in my view. I would wish for more, especially since the 4th place person in the election will likely be appointed to the vacancy. Had the Board put that vacancy on the ballot we would have had a “no-election election” where the votes cast wouldn’t have mattered. That’s just not good. If we want more candidates we’re going to have to invest in growing and educating them.

Number of Votes. Voter turnout was down this year, 1285 voters to 1570 last year (the record was 1957 in 2012). I thought the election messaging was fine, on par with last year, so to what should attribute an almost 20% drop in votes? No idea.

The Campaign. I found the campaign disappointing. Not many questions on the forums, low turnout for the webinars, and not a lot of discussion about ideas and the future of PASS. It wouldn’t be fair to blame that on the candidates. I think it’s a function of the voting schedule as much as anything. Getting that schedule right is an ongoing struggle, but I think that we need a few days of campaigning before voting opens so that we all have a chance to hear various positions before voting. A lot of people voted on day one.

My Suggestions.

  • Candidates, catalog your network long before the election. LinkedIn, Twitter, etc are your friends because they allow you to reach your network directly. Note that you still have to use care about how  you build that list – you can’t just import the PASS member list.
  • Candidates, the NomCom is your friend. Don’t hesitate to ask for a ruling before you do something.
  • I’d like to see a (better) process for fielding/selecting questions for candidates.

Going Forward. We could easily just use what we have for the election process next year. Not perfect, but functional.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 2015 PASS Election

  1. we failed by not educating everyone on the rule amendment

    You hit the nail on the head there, Andy. PASS had multiple opportunities to communicate this change and did not. It should have been included in PASS’s blog post about changes to the 2015 elections and mentioned in the multiple elections related emails that went out to PASS members. That one of the candidates in the election was caught off guard because they weren’t aware of the rule change should be telling.

    Adding to that point, I think that the rule needs to be tweaked further to require a wrapper/disclaimer on any campaign related emails that go to a chapter, similar to how PASS and SQLSaturday organizers put specific text in place on sponsored emails to their lists so the nature of the message is clear.

    As for generating more interest in the elections, what do you think about moving the timeline to later in the year and incorporate campaigning into the Summit? Given what I’ve seen in recent years I’d argue there’s very little value in knowing who the incoming board members are so they can participate in board related activities at the Summit. I think there’s greater value in calling out the elections during the keynotes, making the candidates available for debate/town hall sessions in person, and then holding the elections after the conclusion of the Summit.


  2. Kendal, I like that the election is done before the Summit. Back in the day it held at the Summit (it was basically Summit attendees only) and that never felt right. I think there is a LOT of value in knowing who the new board members are going into the Summit, not least is a chance to do a warm handoff along with the members you’ll soon be supporting via a portfolio.

    Agree on the disclaimer. Easy to fix that. But I had hoped it would “just happen”. We’re talking CL’s after all.

    Agree on the communication. Blame the NomCom (2014)? The Board? Both. Blame is wrong really, who owns the communication? Full ERC allows for scoping that better perhaps.


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