How should we deal with an electoral stalemate?

Borthwick Chris Jul2019lg

In this help sheet series, Our Community’s resident agony uncle, Chris Borthwick, offers answers to frequently asked questions about issues not-for-profits are facing.


Dear Agony Uncle,

I have a question about AGMs. Our constitution says board directors have to be elected by 75% of members eligible to vote and present at the AGM, either in person or by proxy. However, if we have the situation where we have a contested election – two people nominating for one position – what happens if neither get 75% of the vote? Do we ask members to revote?

Furthermore, if we have three people nominating, and none gets 75% of the vote, does the person with the lowest number of votes get eliminated from the contest and we ask members to vote for one or the other of the remaining two?

Do you have any suggestions as to how we manage this? This has not been a problem in the past, but I think it might be this time.

Agony Uncle's answer

Boy, that's one hell of a poison pill.

Is this your first contested election? How old is your organisation? How has this not happened before?

The moment the vote is split, the outcome is that nobody has been elected. There is a vacancy in that position. What happens then depends on how far the rot has got. If (say) seven of eight positions are correctly 75%ed and one vacancy remains, then you could just plough on and let matters take their course, which I imagine would mean having the board meet and take whatever action the constitution's provisions for casual vacancies suggest.

If, heaven forfend, seven positions out of eight are going to be unfilled, you have a serious problem and a risk of unplanned disassembly.

if it's that kind of an existential problem, then people will probably be prepared to cut you a fair bit of slack. The chair at the AGM would probably have enough freedom of movement to do what you suggest – eliminate the lowest score and hold another vote until someone has 75%.

This has several obvious problems, mind.

One, this could take a while, depending on how many candidates you have. Voting for Democratic presidential candidates has been known to go on for days, and for the papacy, months. You've only got a couple of hours.

Two, there's no guarantee you can get from two candidates to one, ever, not with that 75% requirement. As I say, when the Vatican settles down to this they've been known to resort to cutting off food and drink until the cardinals agree. Cutting off the tea and biscuits doesn't have the same punch.

Use moral suasion. Appeal to their better nature. Cry.

Is it too late to bring a constitutional amendment to the AGM? If that was passed first you could then hold the election under more or less sane conditions.

Best wishes,
Agony Uncle.

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