How Elections Work at a General Conference Session

The process of electing leaders and directors is transparent and secure.

Shawn Boonstra
How Elections Work at a General Conference Session

The election process at the General Conference (GC) Session can be shrouded in mystery for a lot of people watching from afar. During the course of the Session, more than one hundred positions are filled. As the new officers are presented each day, many people wonder: How in the world were they chosen? Does a shadowy cabal make decisions in the background? Is the election a foregone conclusion? 

Not at all. If you’ve participated in filling positions at your local church, you likely already know how the process works. Usually, once a year, a local church congregation selects a nominating committee that meets to discuss and vet names for the various offices of the church, ranging from elders and deacons to Sabbath school teachers and the various department heads. Once the nominating committee has prayed over the names and discussed the best choice for each position, they bring the results of their deliberations back to the congregation, which then votes on their candidates. Once all the names are approved by popular vote, the candidates assume their new offices. 

It works the same way at all levels of the church, Claude Richli of the General Conference Secretariat explains.

“It’s basically the same process throughout the whole system…. When the conference constituency takes place, every church is apportioned a certain number of delegates, based on the size of the church, to be sent as constituent members. When they get to the constituency meeting, they are recognized as delegates, and some of them will be selected to be on the nominating committee by the organizing committee — meaning there are two committees that do their work, so that it reduces the risk of political interference. This process takes place in the same way at the union level and at the division level.

“So let’s say, for instance, at the division level you will have unions recommending to the division the delegates that they would like to send to the General Conference Session. And then through the division comes a recommendation to the General Conference Administrative Committee and then Executive Committee. So it goes through many levels. The people who are here have been vetted throughout the whole system.”

The Nominating Committee faced a considerable task during the long days of the 61st Session. Their first discussion lasted nearly five hours before the committee brought back the name of incumbent Ted Wilson for General Conference president. That is just one of many positions to nominate, which means that the committee will be very busy throughout the course of the week.

The process is expedited considerably by using online technology. In the past, paper ballots were cast and manually counted, which could slow down the voting process considerably. In St. Louis, delegates are using ElectionBuddy, a digital voting system that enables delegates to vote by using their personal devices. 

The ElectionBuddy system—known to be secure—has been working smoothly, in spite of the hiccups faced by delegates on the first day of the Session, when WiFi connectivity in the auditorium became a little spotty as delegate usage suddenly swamped it during some of the earliest votes. North American delegates were encouraged by the chair to switch to their cell-phone data connections, and the problem was quickly resolved as demands on the routers dropped. After the bugs were ironed out, the voting ran smoothly, and voting participation on most agenda items has been high.

How are General Conference officers chosen? Essentially, you choose them. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always been a grassroots, bottom-up organization, and the highest authority of the church is the assembly of delegates at the General Conference Session. When the newly elected officers appear on the platform each day, they are there because of a process that started with you.

Shawn Boonstra

Shawn Boonstra for Adventist Review