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Sunday, February 5, 2006

The Web and the 2009 UUA presidential race.

How will the Web become a factor in Unitarian Universalist denominational politics? I think this is a good time to ask because the next contested race for the presidency of the UUA isn't until 2009 and I'm not yet aware of people who plan to run, which makes what follows abstract and yet still timely. Three years allows plenty of time for all sorts of new developments — and, for those who will be campaigning, plenty of time to consider options.

In the 2001 campaigns — the last time there were contested races for president and moderator — each candidate set up a website, an unprecedented form of promotion in our denominational history. Each candidate will obviously need a website for 2009; I suspect that campaign webmasters will use RSS and related technologies to keep information flowing and interest up. For the 2001 campaigns the UUA set up an email list specifically for campaigning and discussion of the election. Will email lists still be the preferred mode for denomination-wide discussion by 2009?

And what role will blogs play in the 2009 race? As independent channels, they're not covered by the board's editorial and advertising restrictions in the same way UU World is, although changes in the elections rules could place limits on paid advertising in other media, too. (See "Election Campaign Policies for Print and Electronic Media" in the UUA Board of Trustees Policies and Procedures Manual, Section 2.9G; pages 50–52 in the September 2005 edition.) But candidates and their supporters might — and, I'd say, should — recognize that blogs written by supporters can be an extremely valuable way to share a message and generate interest — especially if it seems that delegates will use the Web to help them decide how to vote. Blogs simply weren't a relevant medium in 2001, but they may well be in 2009.

After the end of the 2001 race (won by Bill Sinkford and Diane Olson, who later resigned and was replaced by Gini Courter), a board-appointed task force examined our elections policies and proposed a number of recommendations [pdf] for the next race, including the following uses of the Web:

  1. Teleconferencing of debates between candidates to save time and expense of direct appearances.
  2. Videotaping debates between the candidates for distribution to the Districts, and possibly every congregation.
  3. A monitored website allowing for an evolution of opinions and messages.
  4. Posting all events online, with every event being reported in different formats: text, still photos, video, and online video.

At what point between now and June 2009 will these recommendations become board-mandated and staff-supported priorities? December 2007 at the latest, I'd think.

The 2004 General Assembly adopted new rules governing elections; at the moment, I can only find the proposed text [pdf] in the GA Agenda, pages 24-26, but by the time people need them, I'm sure they'll be available in a more current format.

And when will all this politicking kick off? The race can't begin publicly until January 1, 2008, but candidates may file by petition as late as February 2009 (see Bylaws 9.5 and the new election rules cited above). The General Assembly sets the rules governing election campaigns; the last chance the General Assembly will have to modify the rules for 2009 will be at the 2008 GA (Bylaws 9.12), although such changes are almost always introduced by the board itself.

I know this is an unusually bureaucratic entry, but I'm partly collecting my own thoughts as I have time and putting them here for further refinement down the road. If you feel like speculating about roles the Web might play in UUA elections down the road, please chime in.

(Disclosure: Once real campaigning begins, I won't be able to comment on the races because I'm a UUA employee. Until then, whatever I say about the process itself strikes me as fair because I'm not commenting in a way that can affect the outcome. A further thought: Advertising on this site is handled entirely through Google's AdSense program, which means that I can't screen advertisers in advance — though I can exclude ads to specific URLs — and that I make some money off of ads that attract the interest of my readers. I suspect that, in the interests of impartiality, I'll need to find some way to exclude ads from candidates if I'm still working at UU World in 2009.)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 5 February 2006 at 6:51 PM

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Kurt Jensen:

February 6, 2006 07:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

While I am sure the web etc. will be used, I am more concerned by the fact that all three candidates for President in the last contested election were at the time UUA staff employees. Despite some vague promises to do something about that situation, I can not recall any substantive changes that will prevent that same situation in the future, which I believe puts the UUA HQ in the hands of folks that have no real grasp of current congregational life in the member congregations.


February 6, 2006 09:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Then why not look for one or more strong candidates among parish ministers and urge them into the race? Ministers who are concerned about this issue could certainly discuss it with the Nominating Committee.

I was distracted by my final year of seminary when the candidates who ran for the 2001 election entered the race, so I'm at a loss to explain why other candidates who weren't employed at 25 didn't run. I don't think anything had changed in the elections rules in the preceding eight years. Does anyone have some insight on what may have changed? Or was it simply an unusual alignment of events and personalities? I honestly don't know.

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