Herring and Skilton: A closed vote, a more open process

The News published a story Tuesday (“Democratic committee to endorse with closed vote,” Nov. 16) that omits several relevant factors in the Ward 1 Democratic Committee’s decision Sunday to use a closed-vote process to select its endorsed candidate for the 2011 aldermanic election. We write to clarify the processes available to the ward committee, and to explain the reasons that we support the closed endorsement vote process.

The endorsement process employed in 2009, and still most familiar to Yalies, is known as an open pre-primary endorsement vote. Developed by the 2006-’08 Ward 1 co-chairs, this model calls for all Ward 1 Democrats to participate in a pre-primary vote in the spring of the election year. The ward committee then endorses the candidate who wins this vote, and the co-chairs deliver their endorsement to the Democratic Town Committee over the summer (a deadline which is set by town party rules). The endorsed candidate then appears as the endorsed candidate, at the top of the ballot, in a September primary. Provided that s/he wins the primary, this candidate appears on the ballot for the November municipal election on the Democratic line.

The second option, which the ward committee adopted Sunday and which is now the endorsement process of all 30 wards in the city, is called a closed endorsement vote. In this model, the members of the ward committee vote to endorse a candidate, and the co-chairs deliver this endorsement to the Democratic Town Committee. The endorsed candidate appears — as in the pre-primary endorsement vote process — at the top of the ballot in the Democratic primary, and provided that s/he is successful in the primary, appears as the Democratic candidate in the November municipal election.

The ward committee also had the option of not delivering any endorsement to the Democratic Town Committee. Provided that the town committee did not decide to endorse a candidate, all Democrats who petitioned for candidacy would appear in alphabetical order on the primary ballot, and the winner of the primary would appear as the Democratic candidate on the November ballot. We rejected this option to avert the possibility of the town committee endorsing a candidate without gathering any input from students.

On Sunday, we adopted the closed endorsement vote process because of serious and unavoidable problems in the open pre-primary endorsement vote model. The most important of these is that the momentum any Democratic candidate would gain by campaigning in and winning a large-scale endorsement vote almost seven months before the general election would make it effectively impossible for anyone to challenge the endorsed candidate in either the Democratic primary or the general election. This means that the pre-primary endorsement vote model is likely to discourage — as it did in 2009 — competition in either the Democratic primary or the November election.

Paradoxical as it seems, expanding the voting body for the endorsement vote to include all Ward 1 Democrats means that a large fraction of the electorate, Democratic and otherwise, is as good as disenfranchised. Under the open pre-primary model, the candidate who succeeds in the pre-primary endorsement vote has as good as won the November election.

But s/he would effectively win based only on the support of only a fraction of the electorate — excluding a large number of the voters s/he would then represent on the Board of Aldermen. Incoming freshmen will have had no say in the selection of the endorsee, and are extremely likely to have no choice besides him or her in the November election. Similarly, the pre-primary endorsement vote model also effectively disenfranchises all voters who are Republicans, independents or members of third parties. In other words, these voters may well be represented by a person whom they never had the chance to vote against.

For this reason, we believe that the closed endorsement vote model will enhance competition among candidates for the support of voters in Ward 1. The changes from the 2009 model are for the better: the closed vote model shifts the calendar of the campaign so that most campaigning occurs at the time of the November election rather than the April before, and therefore expands the electorate to allow participation by freshmen and non-Democrats.

Mac Herring is a junior in Berkeley College and Amalia Skilton is a sophomore in Calhoun College.

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