Mining Ballots: Nuggets for the Future

Susan J. Beck

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I was born on November 4. I am an election baby. I was born on a Wednesday, but in the year I was born, there was not a U.S. general election. Those only happen on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November from November 2 through November 8 in even-numbered years.1 I was born in an odd year. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the U.S. general election has fallen on my birthday twice already. I cannot think of elections without thinking of my birthday.

As a child, one form of free and educational entertainment in which my family engaged, when my birthday was on election day, was watching the election returns come in at the Huron County (Ohio) Courthouse. We did this after a celebratory birthday dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The courthouse is a majestic building with an imposing bell tower that sits right in the center of downtown Norwalk, Ohio. You can see for yourself in Wikipedia or just Google it to look at other courthouse images.2 We climbed the imposing steps to the second floor to watch the flurry of activity surrounding the elections. It was all very exciting—all this fuss just for my birthday. I remember the election board officials handed out small patriotic tokens like Ohio flags to children and the party officials gave out leftover buttons and rulers with their party’s campaign slogans. I still have a wooden ruler from the 1960 election. I also seem to remember donuts—and cider—even though I really associate those with the Halloween parade a few days before. Maybe they were just leftover, too.

When I was young, I wanted to be a senator. Instead, I am proud to say I became the president of RUSA. There was an election involved. I have both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science—all because I was born in the first week of November. It’s funny how when you were born affects who you become. I am a Scorpio. According to one astrological website, “the curiosity of Scorpios is immeasurable, which may be why they are such adept investigators. These folks love to probe and know how to get to the bottom of things.”3

Ah, so this is why I became a reference librarian. It also is probably why it takes me so long to write these columns— curiosity gets the best of me and the Web provides so many fascinating distractions. Case in point: For this editorial, I actually looked up the biography of the architect of the Huron County Courthouse, Vernon Redding, to discover that he also built a number of Carnegie Libraries in Ohio.4 I digress.

So, as you can see, elections and voting have always been very important to me. This issue of RUSQ will come out just before the 2010 ALA elections. So I want to take this opportunity to encourage you to vote. One of the privileges and, yes, responsibilities of membership in RUSA is to vote. Effective governance of associations requires the participation of its members. Voting provides us with the opportunity to shape our association. Even if you are not able to participate on RUSA committees or attend conferences, our election is one place where you can actively participate and make a difference. Your vote does count. I can’t tell you how many elections I have seen in RUSA where elections were won or lost by just one vote, much to the amazement, incredulity, and disappointment of the candidates. In the 2009 RUSA elections, there were three very tight races. One candidate won by one vote for a memberat-large position. Two chair positions were won by less than a 3 percent margin. This illustrates that the two candidates were well matched, but it also demonstrates that each vote is important. Our electoral participation rate as a division is 23.9 percent. This is comparable to ALA’s participation rate of 23.4 percent.5 See table 1 to see how our members vote in each of our division’s sections.

The point is, I expect you to vote in the next election. You will select members to represent your views and opinions. You will select the leadership of RUSA and its sections. An election is one of the most important participatory events in any association, so vote and let your voice be heard. Participation is what this is all about!

I am going to quickly describe the candidate selection process in case you are unfamiliar with it. One of the first things one does as the president-elect or as a section vice-chair is to appoint the next Nominating Committee chair. This process is completed by November. The Nominating Committees recruit a slate of candidates for each open elective position. The slates are finalized at the ALA Annual Conference and the nominees submitted to the RUSA office by September 15 for the spring election. Candidates are asked to submit biographical information, including data about their education and professional positions, as well as to describe their ALA activities and accomplishments. The candidates also are asked to provide a statement about their professional concerns.

Voting in ALA elections can be time consuming and even intimidating to the new voter. I am a member of two ALA divisions, all six RUSA sections, and a roundtable, so it takes me awhile. I love the new electronic voting, which lets me go vote for one position at a time without having to complete the entire ballot when I am inevitably interrupted.

What kind of voter are you? Are you intimidated by the lengthy ALA ballots? Are you the voter who quickly zeros in on your choice, makes your selection, saves them and exits out of there as fast as you can, perhaps seldom reading the candidate’s biography and statement of concerns? Or are you the voter who simply must learn where the candidate is from, where they worked, and what committees they have served on? Do you want to discover whether you have worked with the person, or perhaps know someone who has worked with the person, or ever lived in the same state—you see what I mean? Guess which type of voter I am? Yes! I openly admit it—I love to read everything about each candidate!

You can learn a lot about a person and how they think by reading their statements. You can find out what the candidate values about our association, what they believe the association should be doing, how they think RUSA can best help meet members’ needs, and what they think are the most important benefits the association offers its members. What are the important issues facing the profession, the association, and their specialized section? What is important to the candidate? How do they perceive the needs of our specialties in our profession? What has their participation in RUSA meant to them?

For the last few years I have been selectively collecting RUSA candidate’s statements at election time, not quite knowing just what I would be doing with them, but thinking they would be interesting to analyze.6 So, this is the first of two columns examining the statement of concerns from 105 candidates who have run for an elected position in RUSA in the past three years (2007–09). Since 2007, 109 members have run for an elective office. These include every candidate for RUSA president, board of directors, councilor, chair, secretary, and member at large. Of the 109 candidates, 105 (96.3 percent) completed the statement of concern portion of the ballot. In the future I hope all the candidates will think that it is important to provide this information.

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