Open Response: Online Endorsement Votes in Boston DSA

By Maddie H., Co-Chair

The Boston DSA Steering Committee recently received an open letter from a member and multiple co-signers calling for the Steering Committee to intervene in our Electoral Working Group’s candidate endorsement plan. The letter asks the SC to set up a process by which the membership can choose whether to block online voting for candidate endorsements.

It’s unclear to me why the Steering Committee is being called on to intervene in this specific vote. This is a proposal coming from a member and its end result is directed at the general membership, and as such I believe it should go through our standard general meeting planning process and be voted on on the floor of a GM.

With that said, I’m appreciative that the co-signed members took the time to communicate their stance to not allow online voting for candidate endorsements, and I feel it is my duty as co-chair to respond and share my point of view with the membership at large.

In terms of decisions made by the organization as a whole, I advocate for as open a voting policy as possible. If we’re making a decision as Boston DSA, such as endorsing a campaign or choosing a priority, I believe that means that every member of Boston DSA must be offered the opportunity to participate in that choice. Not just a narrow opportunity, attached to limitations and judgments, but an open, trusting opportunity, that reflects the trust we aspire to have in each other and our community. That is the foundation on which I want to build an organization. I want online voting, not just for endorsements, but for anything that would be called a decision made by Boston DSA as a whole.

Simply being able to vote does not constitute a democracy, as we can easily see from our current electoral situation in the U.S. But the expansion of participation beyond voting does not result from unnecessarily restricting voting. Whether or not this measure would be intended to do so, the end result is that it ranks some members above others, and removes privileges from those members who cannot structure their lives around key meetings. I do not believe in this punitive approach to encouraging participation. In lieu of blocking avenues to those who want to be involved, I would rather focus on incentivizing participation beyond the vote. I would not want to create a precedent for not allowing dues-paying members to participate in a decision that will bear their name, especially when we have the means to support their participation.

A vote is the bedrock on which we build: It’s the bare minimum, but it’s not optional. In the world I envision and the world I believe we are fighting for, no one lacks the vote. As I said in my candidate statement, I intend to work to have DSA’s structure reflect the qualities we want to see in the world at large. One co-signer of this letter told me that this is an overdramatic way of phrasing this, that a membership organization does not function the same way a government functions. But to me, every step we take towards a truly egalitarian society needs to be actively moving us closer to that society, not away from it. Restricting voting in a chapter-wide decision would be moving away from it.

One concern folks have voiced is that the minority will not be heard if we do not require participation in a meeting to hear debate. But the minority is heard in Boston DSA: online, in our newsletters, in conversations at our many social events and non-general meetings, in pamphlets and materials, and more. Engagement with the various minority positions in our org is absolutely not limited to four minutes of debate time during a vote, and we shouldn’t structure our organization’s decision-making process as if that is true.

The letter uses the premise that Boston DSA is run consistently and according to our bylaws by parliamentary procedure. I want to challenge this: Though we can use parliamentary procedure for decision-making, Boston DSA is not rooted in parliamentary procedure, nor is parliamentary procedure always the standard by which radical organizations should act. The only language around endorsements is a threshold — we must endorse with “60% of the voting members at a local meeting.” That local meeting could take a variety of forms, and could easily include online voting, since online voting is not prohibited by Robert’s Rules — and it is especially easy to allow online voting with, e.g., the addition of a livestream and a recording of the meeting released to members, plus a time delay for vote closure. There are many creative possibilities available that include a vote being available to any member. I would much rather proceed with decisions about how we enhance participation with the given condition that we will not restrict votes on chapter-wide decisions, and see where that conversation goes and what choices we make.

The letter-writers present a false dichotomy: We should either do business as an all-online or all in-person organization. This is an attempt to force a choice that does not need to be forced. There are shades of gray between these two extremes, and we are already existing in an organization that is functioning within those shades: The release and wider publication of the original open letter itself is evidence that we have many fora outside of meetings in which the minority voice can currently be heard and have a significant impact.

In this letter and in other conversations I’ve had around this question, proxy voting is offered as an alternative choice to online voting. I think it’s highly preferable to have both options available to members. Proxy voting is more limited than online (e.g., in other proxy voting systems I’ve experienced, a certain member can only vote on behalf of a set number of members) (CORRECTION: after a member reached out to me, I want to point out that the specific Boston DSA bylaw around proxy voting does not have such a limitation and that it is the responsibility of the SC to make sure all members who ask are provided with a proxy) and presents a clearly more difficult choice and a barrier to members with social anxiety or a lack of strong connections and friendships in the organization. I say this as someone who has experienced significant social anxiety. Do we want to shut off the option to vote to these members? Will that encourage their participation and engagement? The bottom line is that the more barriers that are placed between a member and their vote, the less comfortable I am. If proxy voting were truly as simple as online voting, we would not be having this conversation.

I move that the steering committee is removed from the process of deciding how votes are managed for candidate endorsements. The letter writers should bring the points in this letter as a proposal to the General Meeting Planning Committee, as would happen with any other member proposal. I will be voting no on any motion to prevent online voting for chapter-wide decisions, as I strongly believe that if Boston DSA makes a choice, all of Boston DSA makes that choice, period. We have the tools to make that vote democratic, and we are obligated to use them.


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