Updated 4/24/2021 @ 12:20am, added details, additional Robert’s Rules violations, and list of rules violated.
Full disclosure: I am a founding member of the MISolidarty team and a DNC Delegate (MI).
MISolidarity is a grassroots organization working for democracy and progressive policies at every level of politics.
As reported earlier, the April 10th meeting of the MDP State Central Committee was rife with problems. MISolidarity has prepared an appeal and will be filing it with the MDP Appeals Committee. Below I’ve cut out the boiler plate and just provided the substantive portions of the penultimate draft. The full appeal is here. If you’re an MDP member and would like to sign on in support of the appeal, sign here.
It is important to remember that Chair Barnes and Executive Director Jensen knew the rules, and chose to break them. I went over these issues with them both two years ago. They listened, told me they understood and would follow the rules. An hour or so later, they broke their promise and appointed the officers rather than electing them, exactly as they did again this year. This year, MISolidarity ran an open and democratic nomination and election process to choose candidates for our slate of State Central Committee “officers-at-large.” Several days before the April 10th meeting I sent the resulting Solidarity Slate for SCC officers to Chair Barnes and Executive Director Jensen, reminding them of the rules. I received no reply.
On the Monday after the April 10th meeting, I was informed the MDP would no longer accept online transmission of new member signups from MISolidarity, as has been the established practice. This is apparently in retaliation for the entirely fair questions and reasonable objections raised at the April 10th meeting. It’s also a further violation of the rules, as I explain in this email chain. To which there has also been no reply for five days.
The appeal is detailed below.
Summary of the Complaint
The State Central Committee met on April 10th, 2021. At said meeting, the Chair used an illegal procedure to seat officers on the State Central Committee. Specifically, the Chair used the appointment process for Standing Committees members described in MDP Rule 9.0.1, instead of the election process required for State Central officers described in MDP Rule 7.1.1.
Additionally, there were no nominations. MDP rules are silent on nomination procedures for elections. Where the rules are silent, Robert’s Rules of Order (RRoR) govern (MDP Rule 2.6). Under Robert’s Rules an election is always preceded by a nominating process. There are six nominating processes under Robert’s Rules, only five of them apply to officers; the other is for “committee membership and similar positions” (RRoR 46:5). All nominating procedures that apply to officers require opening the floor to nominations from members at some point in the procedure. Clearly none of these procedures were followed on April 10th – the floor was never opened for nominations.
List of Rules Violated
- MDP Rule 2.6 – Failed to follow Robert’s Rules when MDP rules are silent.
- RRoR 1:1, 9:30 – 9:31 – Failed to hold a proper meeting.
- RRoR 31:3 – Failed to motion, debate, or vote on a nominating procedure before an election.
- RRoR 46:2 – Failed to hold a valid nominating procedure when “strictly” necessary.
- RRoR 46:5 – Failed to follow a valid procedure for nominating officers.
- RRoR 46:6 – Failed to follow a valid nominating procedure for a multiple-position office.
- MDP Rule 2.16 – Failed to hold an election using a method “approved for implementing proportional representation” when electing multiple people to the same office.
- MDP RVE 6.1, 6.4 – Failed to hold a slate voting election for a multiple-position office.
- MDP Rule 7.1.1 – Failed to hold an election when required by the rules.
Reminder to the Appeals Committee
We note that it has been the customary practice of the Appeals Committee to make its decisions in a closed, private meeting. Under MDP rules, this is explicitly forbidden. The Appeals Committee is required to make its decision in a public meeting. Rule 12.5.5 reads, in relevant part,
“Decisions shall be made at a public meeting of the Appeals Committee” (emphasis added).
Rule 12.5.5 does not say “announce” or anything similar. It says “shall be made.” The requirement is to make the decision at the public meeting, not merely announce a decision made earlier. This rule exists to help ensure a transparent process and give the people of the Michigan Democratic Party confidence that their Appeals Committee is making appropriate decisions using a fair and fact-based process, because they can see the process of decision making as it unfolds.
When our written rules contradict customary practice, the members of the Michigan Democratic Party have a right to expect the written rules of our Party, not custom or practice, to govern all Party operations. Including the Appeals Committee. Otherwise, we effectively have no rules. The members have the right to expect the written and published rules to be followed, especially by the committee charged with enforcing them.
Additionally, the MDP, which is to say the State Central Committee and its subcommittees, may be subject to the Open Meetings Act. The party performs a state constitutionally mandated function (Article V Section 21), which is the definition of a “public body” under the Act. As one attorney put it, “case law dictates that political committees are subject to the Open Meetings Act and must abide by its provisions (1 OAG, 1978, No. 5,298, p 434 (May 2, 1978)).”
The State Central Committee met on April 10th, 2021. At said meeting, the Chair claims to have “elected” officers of the State Central Committee. However, no election was held.
- Robert’s Rules explains that “strictly speaking, nominations are not necessary when an election is by ballot…” because “… each member is free to vote for any eligible person.” At the meeting, SCC members were not “free to vote for any eligible person” because there was no opportunity to “write in” anyone. Therefore, under Robert’s Rules, a nomination process was “strictly” necessary (RRoR 46:2).
- Since MDP rules do not specify a method for nominating officers, Robert’s Rules govern the nomination process. Robert’s Rules requires a motion, debate, and vote on the method of nomination before an election (RRoR 31:3). There was no such motion, no debate, and no vote. Therefore, under Robert’s Rules, and thus under MDP rules, no election was held.
As Robert’s Rules (46:2) makes clear, members must have the opportunity to vote for candidates of their choice, even if none are nominated, and even if no nomination process is used. No such opportunity existed at the meeting.
Since there was no nomination and thus no election, what process did the Chair use to install these officers? The process used by the Chair consisted of two steps:
- Present her list of candidates.
- Ask the SCC to consent to her selections by approving them with a simple majority vote.
Whatever it may please the Chair to call such a procedure, it is exactly the procedure described in MDP Rule 9.0.1 for appointment of Standing Committee members:
9.0.1 The Chairperson shall, within sixty (60) days of assuming office, by and with the consent and approval of the State Central Committee, appoint the following Standing Committees, together with such others as may be deemed advisable.”
This is the process Robert’s Rules calls “nominations by the Chair.” Robert’s Rules 46:5 reads in relevant part:
“Nominations by the Chair. …The chair, however, can make nominations for committee membership and similar positions (an exception being made in the case of the nominating committee), as may be provided in the bylaws or by adoption of a motion” (RRoR 46:5).
As Robert’s Rules instructs, MDP rules provide this method of nomination for Standing Committee members as noted above (9.0.1), but not for officers. Also, note that Robert’s Rules bars the Chair from nominating the nominating committee. In this case of the 82 officers, the Chair effectively acted as a nominating committee of one. It is absurd to imagine that the Chair is not allowed to nominate members of a committee, but is allowed to appoint herself and serve on it as the sole member.
Standing Committee members are significantly different from SCC officers. Standing Committee members are not entitled to a vote on the State Central Committee or on the Executive Committee of the SCC; State Central officers are entitled to both. SCC officers have significantly more decision making power over the MDP than Standing Committee members. Democracy is a system intended to distribute decision making power equally across the members of an organization. Therefore, the more power a position wields in a democratic organization, the more critical for the selection procedure to be strictly democratic – otherwise the power distribution will be unequal, and the organization will, over time, cease to operate democratically. We should therefore expect democratic rules to provide a democartic procedure for selecting candidates for powerful positions, not place the selection in the hands of just one person, such as the Chair. That’s the opposite of democracy, it’s literally dictatorship, unilateral decision-making over the selection of 82 of about 280 votes on the State Central Committee, 30% of the new total, and 82 votes on the Executive Committee, a clear majority – selected solely by one person, the Chair.
How should the election have been run? MDP rules provide a separate and distinct procedure for electing SCC officers under its own paragraph of the rules. MDP Rules Article 7 is titled “State Central Committee Officers and Executive Committee.” Section 7.1 is titled “Officers and Executive Committee” and rule 7.1.1 is titled “Election of Officers,” it reads in full:
7.1.1 Election of Officers: The Spring State Convention in each odd-numbered year shall elect a Chairperson and two (2) Vice-Chairpersons of the State Central Committee: one (1) each of a different gender and race. The State Central Committee so constituted shall elect a Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, Treasurer and such other officers as in its judgment may be proper. The term of service of State Central Committee officers shall continue until the election of their successors.
Cutting to the key details:
7.1.1 Election of Officers: … The State Central Committee … shall elect … such other officers as in its judgment may be proper. (emphasis added)
Under MDP rules, the 82 officers the Chair installed have no title, no defined duties, responsibilities, or qualifications for office. They are commonly referred to as “officers-at-large” but those words appear nowhere in MDP rules. The phrase “such other officers as in it’s judgement may be proper” is the only place in the rules such officers could possibly arise from. MDP rules clearly specify that officers arising from this phrase must be elected by the SCC. Not appointed by the Chair and confirmed by a simple majority vote.
There are two and only two election procedures allowed under MDP Rules for Voting and Elections (RVE). The first is “majority voting.” Majority voting is used exclusively for electing candidates to “an office filled by only one person” (RVE 2.4 and 5.1) There were 82 people installed in this one office, therefore it is clearly not “filled by only one person;” consequently, majority voting may not be used to elect candidates to this office.
Additionally, offices filled by 82 people at once must be elected by a method that “implement[s] proportional representation” (MDP Rule 2.16). Majority voting does not “implement proportional representation.” Majority voting may not be used to install 82 people to the same office.
The only other method of election allowed under MDP rules is slate voting. Slate voting is used exclusively for electing candidates to “an office for which more than one person is to be elected” (RVE 2.1). Eighty-two people is clearly more than one person; consequently, slate voting is the only legitimate method to seat 82 “officers-at-large” on the SCC. To seat multiple candidates in the same office requires a slate voting election.
The rules refer to “an office for which more than one person is to be elected” as a “multiple-position” office (RVE 2.1).
MDP Rules for Voting and Elections (RVE) Section 6.0 is titled “Multiple-Position Offices.” Section 6.4 is titled “Slate Voting.” RVE 6.4.1 reads, in relevant part, “a list or slate may be submitted by any delegate or group of delegates” (emphasis added). At the April 10th meeting, no delegate or group of delegates were allowed to submit a list or slate. MISolidarity had submitted its slate of candidates for SCC “officer-at-large” by email to the Chair several days before the meeting. The Chair did not enter them into nomination, nor allow any delegate or group of delegates to nominate them.
As noted above, there is no procedure in MDP rules for nominations, therefore they default to Robert’s Rules (MDP Rule 2.6). The customary practice of the MDP has been to allow open nominations from the floor. This is a procedure explicitly allowed and encouraged under Robert’s Rules, and there is nothing in MDP rules to the contrary. There are other methods under Robert’s Rules, but none allow the Chair to prevent members from nominating candidates. Robert’s Rules is very specific, “a member need not be recognized by the chair to make a nomination” (RRoR 46:6, emphasis added). At the meeting, it was impossible to be heard at all without being recognized by the Chair – she controlled the microphones. Many people reported putting their (virtual) hands up, and having them put down by the Chair.
When Chirstine Ostola (Alt-CD1) called a point of information and asked that MDP Rule 7.1.1 be read into the record, her microphone was cut off and she was not allowed to speak further (video of the incident, with Ms. Ostola’s response). There were other objections raised, and more that would have been raised if the Chair was not in control of all communications. Robert’s Rules specifies that, “if an objection is made” during an election for a multiple-position office, “no one may nominate more than one person for the office … until every member wishing to nominate has had an opportunity to do so” (RRoR 46:6). Many objections were made. The Chair violated this rule no fewer than 81 times at the April 10th meeting.
In fact, the entire meeting was conducted contrary to the very first rule in Robert’s Rules of Order; “simultaneous aural communication among all participants” are required at all meetings (RRoR 1:1), including when meeting by electronic means (RRoR 9:31). As noted multiple times above, there was no provision for simultaneous communication, the Chair controlled the microphones.
- Vacate the appointment of the 82 “officers-at-large.”
- Instruct the Chair that “officer-at-large” is a multiple-position office.
- Instruct the Chair that selecting SCC officers always requires an election.
- Instruct the Chair that multiple-position offices must be elected by a method that “implement[s] proportional representation.”
- Instruct the Chair that slate voting is the only approved method for implementing proportional representation.
- To ensure clarity, further instruct that a “slate voting” election where all candidates run on a “slate of one” is identical in every material detail to a plurality winner first past the post election. That method of election does not implement proportional representation, and is forbidden by MDP Rule 2.16 and the entire RVE.
- Instruct the Chair that SCC meetings must provide “simultaneous aural communication among all participating members.”
The rest of the appeal is boilerplate details required by provisions of MDP Rules Article 12, covering Appeals Committee procedures.
MISolidarity is working to build the democratic wing of the Democratic Party. To join, go to misolidarity.org.
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