Electronic voting short circuits in debut, will reboot Monday
Written by Tim Kershner
July 1, 2011

When the General Synod electronic voting system was tested for the first time during the opening plenary, some delegates literally had to “Imagine What’s Possible.”

On two test votes this afternoon, intended to introduce delegates to the ease of electronic voting, many claimed that their devices were not working and their votes were not being recorded. As the large screen in the plenary hall displayed the number of votes received in response to the adoption of the agenda and the questions “Were you a delegate in Grand Rapids?” voices were raised not for “yes” or “no” but “It’s not working.”

In response to concerns from the floor, Moderator James K. Robertson asked for additional test votes. After conducting additional business to give the technology team time to research the issue, two new test votes showed better results, but still not to the liking of Synod leaders. Since Friday evening’s votes were planned to be by voice, Monday’s plenary is the next time the electronic voting tablets will be used.

Michael Marcel, an employee of General Synod 28’s stage company Color Tone Staging and Rental has experience using these keypads made by Turning Technologies. In anticipation of Monday’s Plenary, Marcel says he and his team will review the equipment and make any necessary adjustments. He also believes that revised instructions will be given to delegates related to when to begin voting and how to know when a vote is recorded.

The white electronic keypads will be used for most actions during Synod requiring a vote, replacing voice votes, voting cards and other methods of counting yeas, nays and abstentions. The voting pads will also be used for elections. Prior to each vote, delegates will be instructed on how to enter their desired vote.

Associate General Minister Edith Guffey admits that some delegates will miss the “visible expression” of voting by raising a colored card, standing to indicate support for an issue or simply the sound of a voice vote. Even the familiar volunteer tellers are now a memory of Synods past. However, Guffey adds that the Synod process gains efficiencies in time and accuracy. Previous actions which had required a “division of the house,” when all cards were manually counted, are no longer necessary.

The 667 Conference delegates each received a voting pad from their Conference minister. While each device is accounted for, to ensure voting accuracy, Robertson assured delegates the devices were issued at random, so each delegate’s vote remains private. “This being the UCC, we have no interest in how individuals vote.”

Delegates will have 15 seconds to record his or her vote and can change his or her vote within that time. At the end of the 15 seconds the total results are displayed on the large screens in the plenary hall. For elections, additional time will be given along with detailed instructions on how to vote for multiple candidates and how to change a vote already entered.

The idea of using electronic voting began more than 20 years ago but early systems were cost prohibitive. As costs came down over the past two decades, incorporating this technology into the work of synod became more realistic.

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