By Ashley Carnifax
The Working Press
Every member of the Society Professional Journalists will be allowed to vote for national and regional officers under a bylaw change adopted at Tuesday’s closing business session ending a decades-long tradition of voting by delegates only.
Voting on legislation, such as resolutions and changes to the bylaws, will remain as is. Each chapter will continue to be allotted one delegate — and one vote — for every 50 members.
The measure known as “One Member, One Vote” passed by voice vote.
Incoming SPJ President John Ensslin supported changing the bylaws. He was granted permission to speak at the meeting although he was not a delegate to the convention.
Ensslin said an analysis he did of last year’s convention found that the delegates who voted at the business meeting represented only half of the membership.
“I look at this room and see a lot of empty chairs and suspect that that is probably the case again,” he said.
Reaction to the precedent-setting vote was mixed.
David Carlson, a North Central Florida chapter delegate, argued for passage. He said that if 10 percent of the membership votes in an election, it would still be about 800 votes, compared with the approximately 200 delegate votes currently cast.
Carlson said more voices would be an improvement over the current practice.
Scott Cooper, Region No. 8 director and Oklahoma chapter member, said his area has fewer members than other regions.
Cooper said giving individual members voting rights would put small chapters at a disadvantage, because it will cause larger discrepancies in the number of votes needed to sway an election.
“If you combine all of the members in my region, you might have half of the members in the Chicago chapter,” Cooper said. “I totally understand the disenfranchisement issue, and it is a top priority with the board to address that.”
Lauren Bartlett, a Greater Los Angeles chapter delegate, urged other delegates to defeat the measure, because she said SPJ had not asked its members whether voting in the elections was something they were interested in doing.
The cost of implementing the change also was a concern.
Parliamentarian Robert Becker cited executive director Joe Skeel’s estimate that instituting an online system for all-member voting would add “no more than $5,000” per year to the organization’s costs.