Atiya Hakeem 2015 Q&A: Election Process

After a few years of uncontested elections (including one which garnered 0 candidates initially), there are now more candidates than ever before for the smallest number of seats ever up for election. To what do you attribute this sudden surge of candidates, and what would you do during your time on the Board to promote consistent contested elections for Board seats?

I had been giving serious consideration to running in the two terms previous to this one. While I was concerned at the direction the OTW’s leadership was taking and had ideas for where I wanted it to go instead, I felt then that it was more important for me to devote all my energy to my committee work, particularly while setting up Quality Assurance & Testing as a subcommittee.

This year, however, I decided that I could no longer stand back and wait for someone else to fix things. The situation with having only one person in charge of the finances and no overall fiscal policy was only getting worse, Board actions were becoming entirely opaque, the lack of representation of the OTW’s project-related committees was increasingly an issue, and the treatment of the volunteers who run the Org’s projects by directors was not improving. Many staffers and volunteers I spoke to had similar concerns to mine, so I made the decision to run, with the plan that I would try to convince others with concerns to join me.

It turned out, though, that I never had to try. Independently, other staffers had come to a similar conclusion, and stepped up to try to make things better.

(As an aside, at the time I decided to run, the change had not yet been made to reduce the number of seats to two.)

Obviously, it would be nice to have staffers wanting to run even when there is no crisis. I think that can be achieved by having a Board that is transparent, so potential candidates know what they’d be getting into; representative of varied OTW committees, so candidates can relate to Board points of view; and approachable, so OTW staffers and volunteers can get to know the directors and feel they can work with them effectively.

While the current election process is more independent than it was in previous years, it is still subject to some decisions made by the Board, which can be passed at any time without input from volunteers. It’s possible for the Board to even change the rules while an election is in progress to exclude some candidates or voters or to punish volunteers for visibly participating in the process. If elected, how would you ensure that each future election is unaffected by interests within the sitting Board?

The only way to prevent Board from having unlimited and arbitrary influence over the elections process is to change Article IX of the bylaws to remove Board’s power to unilaterally change the bylaws by a simple vote. I think this is a good idea in any case, but it’s particularly important for the elections process, as having Board interfere with elections risks calling their legitimacy into question and has the potential to make the entire OTW look bad in the eyes of our membership and the public. Changing this part of the bylaws is one of the things I intend to raise as a matter of urgency, if I am elected.

What do you think about the fact that two changes to the bylaws (reduction in size of board from seven to nine [sic], and the ability of two-thirds of the board to vote off another member with or without cause) means the board could dilute the election process? Effectively, the standing board could vote off any candidate who wins and with whom they disagree until they reach a candidate of whom they approve. Are you concerned about this?

I sincerely hope that three current incumbent directors would not consider negating the results of the election by voting off the winning candidates; it would show complete disregard for our membership, and I cannot believe that they would wish to do such a thing.

However, any bylaw change must be considered not just in terms of how we think the current Board will use it, but how it could be used or abused in future. I am extremely concerned that these changes, and in general allowing Board to change bylaws related to the elections process, are things that are extremely open to abuse by directors who wish to remain in control and suppress outside voices.

As I discuss in the question above, I think that we should protect the integrity of the elections process by removing this power from the hands of the Board.