February 3, 2015

Electronic Voting to Increase Efficiency at GC Session


Delegates to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s General Conference session in July won’t hold up yellow cards to vote as they have in past years. Instead, for the first time, delegates will vote by pressing a button on an electronic voting device.

Votes will be tallied instantly, and final results will be displayed in a bar chart on a screen.

Church leaders say the use of technology will bring greater accuracy to votes and offer anonymity, potentially relieving pressure some people may feel to vote a certain way.

“Technology impacts our lives in many ways, and we’re continually looking for ways in which technology can improve our systems for GC session,” said Myron Iseminger, undersecretary of the Adventist world church.

Church officials at the denomination’s world headquarters used an electronic voting system during the Annual Council business meeting in October. There, hundreds of church officials voted via individual remote devices. By taking the system to the session in San Antonio, Texas, church leaders will make it available to the denomination’s largest governing body—a group of nearly 2,600 delegates.

Iseminger said the new system is more efficient. In past sessions, votes were tallied by officials counting how many delegates held up voting cards, which took time. Sensitive votes were conducted by secret ballot, which took even longer.

Iseminger, who has worked as a church administrator in several of the church;s world divisions, said the electronic system also would help people from cultures who face the conundrum between following their convictions and following their division leader.

“I think in many cultures delegates are caught in a difficult spot because, on one hand, we encourage them to prayerfully vote their conscience, but on the other hand, showing respect to their local leader sitting nearby is also very important,” Iseminger said. “We hope that particular pressure will be removed this time.”

“We want to be transparent and fair, and I think this is a great step forward,” he added.

Session officials will rent several thousand remote voting devices from a company that will also administer the process.

Some local church leaders in North America have used electronic voting for more than a decade.

Max C. Torkelsen II, president of the North Pacific Union Conference, based in Ridgefield, Washington, said electronic voting shows exactly how many people are participating in each vote, and it also affirms delegates that their vote was indeed counted.

Torkelsen served as president of the union’s Upper Columbia Conference when electronic voting was implemented there in the late 1990s. The transition away from voting cards and voice votes led to more “credibility” of the process he said, particularly for people who voted against an item that passed.

“They know their vote was counted,” he said.

Constituency meeting leaders can also use electronic polling to learn how an audience feels about a discussion, even when there isn’t a vote on the floor, Torkelsen said.

About the only thing even slightly controversial about electronic voting was that it cost money. Some systems can cost several thousand dollars.

But Torkelsen said he thinks the expense was worth it “from the very first time.”

“It raises people’s level of confidence of the vote,” he said.

He noted that the nearby Oregon Conference now owns an electronic voting system and rents it out to other conferences for their own constituency meetings.

It was not immediately clear how much the General Conference was paying for the voting system that will be used during the session, which begins July 2 and runs through July 11.