I. In Focus This Week
National organizations vote to merge
By M. Mindy Moretti
There’s something sort of meta about two elections organizations holding an election to determine whether or not to merge their organizations.
But that’s what happened recently when the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Elections Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT) and the National Association County Recorders, Elections Officials and Clerks (NACRC) voted to merge their two organizations.
“This will help our industry and allow us to not only pool our resources, but more importantly to expand our reach,” said Neal Kelley, outgoing president of NACRC and Orange County, California registrar of voters. “I see a "snowball" effect – individuals who may have been sitting on the sidelines will now potentially join an organization that has the potential to really become a much stronger voice on the national stage — among legislators, civic groups, advocates, etc..”
Talks of the merger began more than two years ago and after the late June vote and more than another year of coordination and planning, there will be one organization representing almost all of the local elections officials in the county.
“Although there were previous discussion before, it was not until Neal and I became Presidents last year, we are friends and have great respect for one another,” said Michel Winn, president of IACREOT and director of elections in Travis County, Texas. “I think we both had the patience and temperament to deal with the rigors of discussions and keep people focused on the facts of why it was a good idea to try to do.”
Both men said they are very pleased with the decision to merge, both as leaders of their respective organizations, but also as local elections officials.
“I am pleased with the result not only as the President of IACREOT, but as an election administrator,” Winn said. “I think both organizations duplicated a lot of programs and now we are able to focus on one combined organization with a stronger voice and membership.”
There was no early voting, absentee voting or vote-by-mail. Just in-person voting for IACREOT members during their annual conference and the NACRC membership voted via Internet on a secure link that was emailed to eligible members.
Given what a sticky subject it can be, Kelley said there were surprisingly no concerns raised about NACRC membership voting online.
“…[T]he reason for that was because we viewed this as a private election (much in the same way the Academy of Motion Pictures, HOAs, labor, etc. cast ballots) - the stakes are not as high and the potential for fraud is well below the threshold of elections that are placing individuals in positions of power within our government,” Kelley said. “Despite this –we took strong precautions, such as secure tokens, extensive auditing, etc. during our e-election.”
Voting lasted for four hours on June 30th from 2 p.m. Eastern to 6 p.m. Eastern. There were no hanging chads and no need for runoffs or recounts. The decision was clear.
The NACRC membership voted 94.5 percent YES and 5.5 percent NO, while the IACREOT membership voted 62.21 percent YES and 37.7 percent NO.
“I think it was a pretty gut wrenching decision for IACREOT members,” Winn said. “I think we have considerably more base of members who are more hands on and they were passionate about the decision.”
Turnout for NACRC was 24.2 percent and for IACREOT 32 percent — these numbers might seem low, but they aren’t all that different from average voter turnout numbers nationally.
A committee will now spend the next year-plus hammering out the details about the merger with the new, as-yet-to-be-named group officially launching in September 2016, just two months before a presidential election.
Currently there are no plans to hire consultants or staff to help in the merger, it will all be done by the committee members. The merger committee was deliberately left small — nine members — so that decisions can be made without too much bureaucracy.
“I believe we can collaboratively work together to iron out the details,” Winn said. “We both have very capable individuals who can work together to join both organizations.”
Kelley thinks that how the bylaws and governance end up will be the biggest hurdle during the merger talks. He said both groups are contemplating a single annual meeting next year prior to the final merger to eliminate hurdles.
Interestingly enough, both Kelley and Winn think that one of the biggest hurdles — if not the biggest hurdle — to the merger will be sorting out a name for the new organization.
Kelley and Winn also agreed that the benefits of the merger — membership, vendor participation, no duplication of programs, and a single, national voice on election and clerk issues from a unified association — far outweigh any of the foreseeable obstacles.
Both men wanted to acknowledge the members of NACRC and IACREOT for working together to make a sound business decision for the survival of both organizations.
“As the outgoing president of NACRC I honestly thought that the prospect of getting this merger through was 20 percent likely, 80 percent unlikely, at best,” Kelley said. “But as the year wore on my hopes began to shift and although it was an incredible amount of work I am proud of our team as well as IACREOT's – just getting to this point (given the history of both organizations) is a major accomplishment.”
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