How would you improve delegate voting?

For folks who’ve been to MA Dem Conventions, you know that the voting process doesn’t seem to work particularly well.

Given that there is currently some amount of transparency (the teller confirming each vote by voice) and some amount of robustness (pencil and paper rarely fail when dropped, when used for too long, etc)… how would you improve the voting process?

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62 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Invest in a computer system

    We can either have tellers scan our credentials and enter the information at our seating areas - or maybe arrange to have Kiosks stationed about so delegates can vote under the supervision of convention officials.

    Obviously this would be a large investment - the party must try to raise the money.

    • Not a huge investment

      I know many campaigns with "Democracy guns."  They are used to scan bar codes attached to voters' names for the purposes of scoring them in a database as either being a supporter of a candidate or undecided.  Surely those candidates could be asked to give them up for one day and lend them to the service of the party.  Alternatively, the party could buy a bunch, and then lease them out to candidates for campaigns.

    • I like that idea

      Still could be public, like the current voice vote system, but can be more secure, and avoid human error/interference.  Almost all the 2nd Middlesex tellers had shirts or stickers for a candidate in the treasurer's or auditor's race, so it would definitely be much more reassuring to have a computer system

  2. It might help to simply

    turn off the music while the teller is recording the vote.  Kinda low tech, I know.  Sheesh.   That was freakin' miserable having to scream like we did.  

    Otherwise, why can't they simply bubble in, on paper, the votes and then have an optical scanner read the results?  Seems to me that would leave the paper trail AND speed things up.  

    Don't yell at me--I'm not a tech person at all, so if that is too naive or ill-informed to be a legit response, just ignore it.  Thank you too much.  

    • Low-tech solutions may be a good start.

      Definitely turning the music off, and even just making the convention space organization more gathering friendly. I remember thinking how silly it was that our Teller had to stand on a chair and shout to rows of people who couldn't even really see one another. I understand that we obviously all need to be facing the stage for presentations, and in the stands, there's not much you can do, but it would have made a lot of sense (and albeit, energy) to have districts set up in semi-circle facing the stage so that the teller could at least be closer to the bulk of folks. I know there's a lot of technology that can simplify things, including the remotes that some people mention below. I ultimately get kind of skeptical of those, and I appreciate the transparency of pen & paper, but I do think some tech advances should be considered.

  3. I've previously suggested...

    ...announcing the results of each district out loud, a la the states at the national conventions.

    • Christopher - we DID do that, and used the same facility.

      Kind of sucked that alphabetically 'Cape & Islands' is at the beginning, and yet was the largest delegation to be tabulated, so we were always late, but we DID finally announce at mikes on the floor.

  4. Have Tellers Record - Counters Tally

    Assumiong that a voice roll call as a given, I think that one of the items that might help would be to allow the tellers to focus on recording the vote.  

    My role is typically on the floor in my delegation.  I'm usually either whipping for a candidate or working as a teller.  Both are challenging positions, but it is far easier being a whip than a teller.  

    My suggestion: the teller records the vote and then the book goes to the counting room.  I have never been assigned to the counting room, but I'm told that the process there goes quickly.  When you have processes in place, and people are performing a pricess a number of times, the process is typically done better as people learn the system.  

    So compare a volunteer in a room away from the floor, who might process five or ten books. Compare it to the process done by a teller, just once, in a loud noisy place with five whips leaning over his or her shoulder.  

    Requiring delegates to sit by town or ward is helpful, but takes away from the benefits of a lot of interaction between delegates from different communities.  

  5. clickers

    They cost $10 or less per clicker, could last for years and years and years, and instantly tally the results. It would make for a much quicker convention. Rules would have to be made to make sure they're guarded (ie not hacked or stolen) and returned, but if they can work in huge lecture halls, I bet they can work for a convention :)

  6. Cell phones

    If the muckymucks need to contact a teller, why do they need to page them on the arena sound system?  For that matter, why can't tellers call in the results first before trotting down the books?  If this system is good enough for the Iowa caucuses, it should be good enough for our convention.

    And yes, the clicker/PDA/computer idea thingie so the voting/counting system improves over the way the Athenians did it.  Instead of free parking, put the money to that.

    sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
    • PS

      I wasn't clear.  These tellers all have cell phones, so just get and use their numbers.

      sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
    • Actually...

      The Athenians did it in a better way.  While they used hand raising and voice vote for smaller assemblies, in big votes that involved the whole public they used black and white stones that were put in an urn.  So, if we were looking into low tech solutions, always a place to look... (I'm mostly kidding)

  7. In our delegation...

    the slowest portion by far was the actual voting itself.  It was hard to hear.  Nobody knew everybody.  The delegates, bored of sitting around, didn't pay particularly good attention.  It seems to me that if you want to shave time, shave time at this point... when the delegates are stuck in place and things can be frustrating.

    Our senate district has two large munis (roughly 60k and 100k) and a portion of another municipality.  We've got a section and people tend to clump, but the clumps of friends are randomly scattered.

    During the count, it struck me that it would have been far more efficient if all the folks from Muni A (60k) sat in the front of the section, all the folks from Muni B (100k) sat in the back, and the third and by far smallest delegation sat in "the middle" or, really, wherever since they were small enough it wouldn't matter.

    Then, when calling out Muni A the teller and counter would have an easier time actually finding the person.  Furthermore, with all the folks in Muni A sitting together, there'd be more social attention and pressure to pay attention and call out your vote quickly and clearly.

    I suspect that my senate district is somewhat of a special case; that many senate districts have far more than 2-3 municipalities in them, so this sort of seating arrangement might not help.  Dunno.

    • In 2EM...

      ...the teller DOES request that delegations of each of our four communities sit together, which may be part of why they got their attendance done first.

      • Same in PN

        Each town sat in alphabetical order by row. This allowed the teller to go row by row and town by town. An additional benefit to this system is that the people from each town generally know each other, and can point out people who were too far away to hear their names being yelled. We finished our voting and roll call quite quickly and were confused as to the delays in the other districts.

        I got a ride home with our DTC chair and we brainstormed ideas to speed things up - My idea was to use the same device that they used to scan our credentials to record the vote. The vote would take just as long, but the tally would be automatic and take far less time.  

        chrismatth   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
  8. Slooow

    I don't know how to improve the process, I just know that our district was very fast, and it seemed like an hour between when we finished and when the last district finally got their book together and handed in.

    Is the process really that slow for some districts? Or are there other things going on... Reading another thread, I've come to realize how much of an anomaly our district (or at least, my town) is... we don't pledge votes. Who we were going to vote for actually never even came up at the caucus this year.

    (Four years ago, it was a factor, and we did do a slate evenly split between Reilly and Patrick delegates. Even then, though, if I'd felt an urgent need to change my vote I don't think there would have been any repercussions.)

    But reading about pledging in other districts and strong-arming by local politicos makes me wonder... does any of this stuff lead to significant delays in the counting process?

    • Slates and Pledges

      I feel strongly that if one is elected at a caucus committed to a specific candidate, then you vote for that candidate.

      I have seen delegates who do not feel that his or her pledge is important.  In some years, like 2002 when there were slate battles across the state, it was usually clear to people that they were elected only because they were part of a slate.  

      In less competitive years, this can be less clear to the delegate, especially new delegates or delegates who have only been to non-nominating conventions.  I have worked with towns on behalf of my candidate and I know that someone is elected only because of support for the candidate.  But when five people show up for five spots, it is less clear to the newcomer that if he or she had said candidate X instead of candidate Y, that we would have had a fifth person there and likely people to vote them in.  

      I could say more, but the right and honorable action is to stick with your pledge.  

      I learned long ago the value of a slate meeting and having everyone on the slate agree that they would vote for the candidate for whom the slate was formed or for the candidate that he or she represented on a "unity" slate.  This is easier said than done, but it prevents misunderstandings.

      • I still think this is wrong

        It seems overbearing and bullyish. It will always be the insiders and the well connected who decide the slate, and then everyone must conform or not be granted access to the convention.  To me, it's just the wrong way to have open access to democratic elections. It seems as if potential delegates are manipulated and coerced.  

        I'm not trying to be disrespectful by saying this Kate. I have a lot of respect for you. I value your opinions and  and have learned a lot from your contributions here.

        Delegates are not elected this way across the the entire state.  It shocking to those of us who believe that sending a diverse or undeclared delegation to the convention is better than sending a predetermined vote count that's held in check by a pledge. You are correct that it is the honorable and right thing to do to honor your pledge, but not if the pledge was a coerced one.  People who might want to sway from a slate are people who want to stay in the party, but change the status quo within the party.  Isn't that a good thing?

        It can't possibly hurt anything to allow a few delegates to go either unpledged, or pledging to support another candidate.  It would at least give the appearance of an open and fair election.

        • You can always play the game.

          Remember EVERY registered Democrat as of December 31st is welcome to vote and run at caucus.  You could always organize your own group of new people to come to caucus and run for delegate and vote for your slate.  I think some Deval slates came about that way in 2006.  The regulars felt robbed of their "right" to attend convention, but that's tough.

          • That's good advice Christopher

            but we don't have this issue in our caucus.  We are a  small town with a diverse committee. We don't have to declare who we are supporting before nominations begin. And we don't have to pledge to support a certain candidate. I'm so lucky.  

        • Delegate Votes Go To Those Who Work

          Thanks for your kind words on the thread about my Delegate guide.  I appreciate your perspective and the fact that you are not looking to be disrespectful.  

          Delegate slates go to those who work.  It is an extraordinarily open and Democratic process.  It does require preparation and understanding of the process.  

          If the status quo isn't working, it is indeed good to try and change it.  Put together a group of like minded people and support each other to get elected.

          I just came back from a meeting at which Governor Michael Dukakis spoke.  He spoke about his experience many years ago of electing a new Democratic Town Committee slate because the old one wasn't working.

          Without going into uninteresting detail, my slates do often include un-pledged delegates or delegates who support a candidate other than the majority candidate.  I look to put on my slates people who will work to help elect Democrats, even if we don't always agree.  When I advise volunteers in other towns, I often suggest that they do the same.

          If you would like to discuss this more offline, I am at katedonaghue AT aol DOT com.

          • Thanks Kate.

            I agree...

            I look to put on my slates people who will work to help elect Democrats, even if we don't always agree.  

            It is so much better to acknowledge Democrats who support other Democratic candidates than it is to shut them out and send them home.

        • Votes count

          It seems overbearing and bullyish.


          I run on a slate and I bring 120 fellow Democrats to vote for me and my fellow slate members and the some other interested caucus goers bring 15 supporters - I win - is this wrong - isn't that what elections are about?

          In November - when I ask the same 120 fellow Democrats to vote for our party nominee will it be ok then.

          Stop they whining - its called organizing, its the machine, its grassroots, call it whatever you want - thats how elections have been won for over two hundred years!

          • Not exactly

            It took amendments to the constitution to give women and African Americans the right to vote, and perhaps part of the reason it took so long was because of overbearing caucus leaders.  

  9. Instant Runoff

    Use instant runoff voting so that we never have to go to an actual second ballot for convention endorsement --- streamline the process to a single ballot where we indicate our choices in order of preference. At recent conventions, including this one, the second ballot has been skipped entirely, because everyone wanted to go home.

    • I thought about this...

      it only would have been an issue for Auditor.  But, instead of:

      stomv... treasurer!? Grossman! auditor?! Lake! stomv votes Grossman, Lake

      it would instead be:

      stomv... treasurer!? Grossman! auditor?! First: Lake! Second: Bump! Third: Glodis! stomv votes Grossman for treasurer, and for auditor ranks Lake, Bump, Glodis

      It's quite a bit more awkward... roughly twice as cumbersome for each voter, plus more prone to misunderstanding and misordering of the IRV.

      Furthermore, the IRV doesn't allow for the "freeing" of delegates, an odd procedure to be sure but a component of the campaign which wouldn't be preserved.  In a three person race it might not matter much, but if there's a crowded field for governor, multiple "live" rounds has a very different implication than IRV from the outset.

      • harder to tally, too

        Honestly, I could see it being even more time consuming to count than two or three separate votes. Now, if the party used tech solution to count the votes... that would be a good idea.

        • very easy to tally

          Actually, it's pretty easy to tally. Just perform the exact same tally as they do now, counting only people's first choices. If no one gets a majority, not ask the districts to re-tally assuming the last-place candidate is eliminated. Pretty simple.

          • I think you made my point

            "If no one gets a majority" that means they have to count all over again. That's not so bad when there's only three candidates, but what if there's four or five?

            First count, no majority, eliminate candidate number 5.

            Second count, no majority, eliminate candidate number 4.

            Third count, no majority, eliminate candidate number 3.

            Fourth count, and finally only two candidates left.

            I'm not so sure that would be easier or better than introducing, say, clickers to do the counting. And I think it would be easier for people who are manually counting the instant runoff to make errors -- because you wouldn't just be eliminating the fourth or fifth choice, you'd have to cross off a name on each ballot, from any number on an individual's list, again and again, until you came up with the final two so you could come up with a winner. You may not think that's particularly easy, but try doing that hundreds of times in the space of a few minutes. The party doesn't have that many folks to count the tallies...

            • that's supposed to happen anyway

              1. Those series of tallies are supposed to happen anyway. Today, they require a tremendous amount of time to conduct the shouting-match tally all over again, so they are frequently cancelled. With IRV, the subsequent tallies would always happen, because they don't require the general delegates to stick around, only the talliers themselves.

              2. If there is some computerization of the system (as many are recommending above), then we could know the result in seconds without any separate tally.

              3. I was presuming that the districts don't collect actual ballot papers. If they do, then it becomes even easier, because then you can centralize the counting and just eliminate the smallest pile each time. That goes really fast in practice.

            • You'd have to count twice in the back...

              ...but you wouldn't have to call the roll twice.

      • responses

        1. There is no need to ask anyone for their third choice in a 3 candidate race. You make the auditor vote sound 50% more complicated than it is.

        2. I agree that with the noise factor of shouting out your votes, this could be problematic. I am assuming this would be combined with some kind of technology, as several people suggested above, for delegates to enter their votes.

        3. Doesn't allow for "freeing of delegates"? I see that as a plus. Good riddance.

        • freeing of delegates follow-up

          Also, even if you like the "freeing of delegates," we're not really doing that currently, because the second ballots just aren't conducted. They skipped it this convention, and they skipped it 4 years ago. IRV gives you something better: the ability to free up your own vote if your candidate doesn't have the chance to reach a majority.

          • Indeed...

            but if fixing the voting procedure (without the actual rules of the voting process) makes voting more easy to conduct, perhaps future conventions will include the second ballot...

        • pong

          1.  I made it 33% more complicated.  But shouting out the third one is helpful in reducing ambiguity, which is particularly relevant when the order of the names matters, not simply identification of the name.  This is especially important given (a) the noise, (b) the inability of some delegates to know what the heck is going on or follow directions, and (c) the issue of ordering if there are three or four races going on.

          2.  The "noise factor" ensures that the votes are public for all -- for the other delegates and for the whips.  Failing to preserve this feature (and yes, it is a feature) is a pretty fundamental change in the process, and one which results in less transparency and redundancy.

          3.  The "freeing of delegates" is a feature, not a bug IMO.  Since this is about access to the ballot, there's far more tactical voting that could be at play than one round of IRV allows.

    • Good for elections, bad for conventions

      While this is generally a good system, and I hope that you and other IRV initiatives succeed, this wouldn't work so well in a convention.  In many cases, like the auditor's race, it would be better to come out without an endorsed candidate (though I suppose it would be nice to have anyone other than Glodis get the endorsement of the Democratic Party, even if it is Bump instead of my candidate of choice, Lake).

      • different issue

        You are arguing against the idea of having an endorsed candidate. You may be right about that, but it's sort of an orthogonal issue. The rules say today that we are to have an endorsed candidate. My point is that, along as the endorsed candidate rule is on the books, we should follow it, without requiring delegates to stick around for a subsequent vote.

        If you want to talk about changing the rules to remove the "endorsed candidate" feature, then I would be interested in that discussion. I may agree with you on that, but I'd like to hear some arguments and think it through.

  10. Just scrap the convention altogether.

    Other than a chance for Democratic activists to hang out and socialize in places like Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester, what exactly is the point of spending all that time and money year after year? (Besides keeping Sarah Cannon Holden off the ballot in 2002, the attempt to keep Chris Gabrieli off the ballot in 2006, or this year's attempt by Steve Grossman to keep the September ballot to himself?)

        --The person who gets the convention endorsement doesn't get any money from the party.

        --He or she doesn't get the exclusive use of the "Democratic" name on the ballot.

        --Other than a few insiders, no one voting in a September primary would be able to tell you who got the endorsement in June, and it doesn't affect anyone's vote.

    I dare anyone who isn't from Burlington, a Democratic activist, or a political junkie to tell me who Augie Grace is.

    • Grossman

      I think the result of the treasurer's ballot was more of Murphy's failure to campaign than Grossman's desire to avoid a primary. I received plenty of mail and phone calls from Grossman's campaign, but not a peep from Murphy. I wasn't even really aware Grossman had an opponent until Steve Murphy showed up at our May DTC meeting.

      If he didn't appear to be willing to work for the delegate votes, how do we know he's going to work for the people's vote in September and November?

      chrismatth   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
      • Grossman

        I think there was an unexpressed desire on the part of many Grossman campaign staffers to get Murphy off the ballot.  However, I agree that most of the reason Murphy did so poorly was his campaign.  It's hard going up against someone who has already been endorsed by over half of the Legislature.

        One interesting note: I think that Murphy actually got on the ballot because of delegates who chose to vote for him just to put him on.

        • Agreed.

          I knew Grossman had some competition but I never knew the guy's name.    Seems to me that his appeal to the convention delegates to be inclusive had an impact and that people voted for him to give the guy a spot on the ballot.  Whether or not I believe he really got 15.6% of the vote, however, is another matter.  On that I'm not so sure.  

    • Former Candidate for State Rep

    • The endorsement should mean something

      First position on the ballot, exclusive access to party money, or whatever.

      There was no goal or expectation on the part of the Grossman campaign to keep Murphy off the ballot, though we did want to win big.

    • I've thought the conventions should be every two years

      Regional caucuses could handle candidate endorsements.

      But, if people like the conventions, it's not a bad thing, and it's not a bad opportunity to network outside of your typical area.  

  11. Make voting as early as possible

    Start the day with very short (five minute) introduction. Then roll call. Then do contested race speeches and videos. Then vote. Then everything else like uncontested races' speeches(even if it's the Governor who has to wait) and other important, but less essential, stuff. Holding back important speeches will keep people present at the convention while vote count is completed so that there can be a semi-legit second ballot if needed.

    Using voting to hold people in the hall for uncontested speeches strikes me as the reverse of what should be done.  

    • actually, I kind of feel the opposite

      Make the candidate voting stuff last, so people will stay for everything else. There can be important stuff that happens and suddenly there's not a legitimate quorum, or at least one wonders if there is one.

      As for the speeches, that's actually the most relevant stuff that happens at the conventions. I think it's telling that the only thing covered on WBZ Channel 4 later that night, when I got home for the 11 O'Clock News, was Patrick's speech.  

      • There is one problem with that:

        The voting is just the first step in the long process to getting voting results, which are supposed to be announced to the delegates, not a tiny rump portion of delegates. So holding the voting last leaves lots of space to be filled by unimportant stuff or nothing while the tally goes on.

        Of course if you want to dispense with second ballots altogether and even dispense with announcing winners at the convention, then voting last isn't such a nightmare.

  12. I was a volunteer on the floor

    It looked like a mad house and there was too much background noise. A simple computer system I think would work fine

  13. Perhaps the simplest answer might work:

    The delegates should just sit down and shut up for twenty minutes. By all accounts, the actual tallying of votes moves pretty quickly. It seems to be the mass confusion caused by chattering delegates and delegates not in their seats that cause the most headaches.

  14. It was definitely very noisy

    Our teller was awesome and oh so patient. It's hard trying to get accurate documentation in a crowded and chaotic situation, such as it was.  

    You definitely have to be paying attention, and practically have to lip read to hear your name called, in spite of all the hollering.  LOL

    It's amazing that this system even works.  I would imagine that there are many ways that technology could simplify it. But there would have to be a paper trail, for sure.

  15. Sad for Teddy

    I actually felt terrible that the Ted kennedy tribute was held so late in the day - that was a disgrace - should have been first thing!

  16. Why not allow voting by text message?

    Pre-register every delegate's cell phone who thinks they may want to vote by text message.  The tellers can still manually tabulate votes for those folks who don't have cell phones, or with dead batteries, etc, but I think you could tally most of the votes very quickly this way.

    The announcer could say:

    For Auditor, you have three choices:

    Text the letter A to vote for Suzanne Bump Text the letter B to vote for Mike Lake Text the letter C to vote for Guy Glodis

    Text your choice to 12345...

    Once you cast your vote, the system confirms it with a message back to you - it builds an audit trail of the votes in real time as they are confirmed.  Should be relatively cheap and easy, no?

    • Problematic

      1.  It doesn't require that the delegate is there 2.  It doesn't require that the delegate himself cast the vote 3.  It is possible to spoof a text message 4.  The vote itself isn't public, which would be a significant change from the status quo...

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