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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Alumni Board Message

Message from the Ave Maria School of Law Alumni Association Board of Directors:
Dear Alumni,

On October 29, 2009, David Wagner, Director of Post-Graduate Affairs for the Ave Maria School of Law, sent you a message concerning the upcoming Alumni Association election. Unfortunately, Mr. Wagner's email omitted a number of facts, such that the communication gave a false impression concerning the Alumni Association Board of Directors' position on electronic voting, as well as the sequence of events leading up to the Board voting against the one electronic option proposed by Mr. Wagner. We write to explain this background.

In a typical year, Mr. Wagner's predecessor, Ermin Gornik, would initiate setting an annual meeting date and preceding election schedule based on the availability of school facilities, exam schedules and local events. Past annual meetings would often occur in November with election mailings beginning in August. This year, in light of the school's move and Mr. Wagner's new position, the Alumni Board raised the election scheduling need with Mr. Wagner at its meetings in the beginning of July and August and offered assistance, recognizing that Mr. Wagner's office still needed to spearhead the election since it possessed the financial and mailing resources used in the past to do so.

However, through mid-September, Mr. Wagner had not presented a proposed schedule to the Alumni Board, and the Board's Elections committee had been unsuccessful in getting clear feedback from him regarding the process. As a result, election organization was at least 30 days behind schedule. On September 25, 2009, a majority of the Board called for an emergency meeting concerning elections, which was held on September 28, 2009.

During the emergency meeting, a tentative election schedule, somewhat truncated from normal years, and based on the latest possible annual meeting date, was created. It was at this emergency meeting on September 28 that Mr. Wagner first raised the idea of an electronic voting system. Board members were supportive of the idea of electronic voting but the process, electronic or not, needed to start right away, and any electronic voting system needed to demonstrate that it definitely could count votes according to our rules. The Board therefore agreed that, during the regularly scheduled Board meeting set for the next week on October 6, the Board needed to: 1. confirm the date for the Alumni Annual Meeting; 2. finalize the tentative timeline; and 3. decide, in detail, any information about electronic voting option suggested by Mr. Wagner.

During the October 6 Board meeting, Mr. Wagner presented some additional, non-specific information about his proposal of selecting an electronic voting system. He did not offer evidence that an electronic vendor could count votes according to our rules. Nevertheless, the Board and Mr. Wagner voted to empower the Election committee to approve on its own an electronic voting system if the committee unanimously agreed that a detailed proposal would follow our election rules and meet our tight schedule in time for the annual meeting. But the Board and Mr. Wagner also approved a timeline for an election conducted by paper balloting as in past years which was set to begin promptly, so that debate over electronic balloting would not delay the election or annual meeting.

On October 27, 2009, a majority of the Elections committee, comprised of Justin Berger ('03), John Drake ('07), Maggie Smith ('07), and Mr. Wagner, recommended 3-1 against electronic voting for this election cycle. Among the reasons expressed by the members of the committee were:
* Inadequate certainty that the suggested electronic voting vendor could actually conduct the vote using our preferential method (beyond mere assurances by sales representatives and Mr. Wagner);
* Insufficient time from first proposal of an electronic method to the election date to properly test and get comfortable with vendor and new software;
* Mr. Wagner's continued unresponsiveness and unwillingness to dialogue and share information about the election process in general and the voting method and vendor in particular;
* Lack of resolution on how the electronic method would allow "in person" voting as required by the Alumni Association by-laws;
* Inadequate assurances that members of the Board, besides Mr. Wagner, would have access to election information, including ballots.

Because the default position was to continue the election using paper balloting unless the Elections committee felt confident the electronic method was adequate, the issue was put to rest. Mr. Wagner did not comment in the subsequent email discussion concerning the Elections committee's findings. But without consultation with the other members of the Elections committee, or the Board in general, he then sent the email to all alumni that you received. The
Board believes that his omission of the above facts mischaracterized the well-considered recommendation of the Alumni Association Board, as well as the sense that the Board was in general support of electronic balloting, but against electronic voting for this election cycle because the plan was proposed too late with too little substantiated detail.

In the interest of accuracy, we deemed it appropriate to send this clarification of Mr. Wagner's October 29 email. Electronic balloting is something that the Alumni Board continues to support for future elections if it can be done according to the Board's election regulations, and in a manner that will ensure the integrity of the process.

Thank you,

The Ave Maria Alumni Association Board of Directors