AMO elections: easing ballot access and member participation
By Paul Doell
I've observed every American Maritime Officers election and membership referendum since 1990 from several perspectives, and the outcome too often said as much about logistics and procedure as it did about the candidates or the issues - low rank and file voter participation attributed in many cases to difficulties getting ballots to qualified members at sea while voting is underway. This persistent problem undermines democratic principle in our union and denies many AMO members the opportunity to weigh in freely on union policy and direction.
But real reform is in place, to be applied for the first time in this year's AMO election of officers. The voting period will stretch from 90 days to 120 days, which will make ballot access easier in at least two ways: AMO members who know they'll be aboard ship - often in remote locations - will have more time to let headquarters know where they want their ballots to go, especially if they'd prefer alternatives to their home addresses of record; and AMO administrative support staff will be better able to ensure that the appropriate ballot delivery information is accurate. There could be greater demand for duplicate ballots at several points, and we may have to ask AMO employers to forward ballots to AMO members if circumstances require, but these potential developments and others will be addressed quickly as they arise.
For a vivid sense of how urgent the ballot access issue is, consider the AMO election in 2014, when only two positions were on the ballot. According to True Ballot Inc., the independent service that administers AMO elections, 3019 potentially valid ballots were mailed to AMO members at their home addresses on file, but only 922 ballots were counted in one race and only 921 ballots were counted in the second contest. 106 of these valid ballots were duplicates - and only 46 ballots were returned to True Ballot by the U.S. Postal Service as "undeliverable."
One incumbent official defeated in the 2014 election later attributed the low voter turnout to apathy - and, given the grim conditions in AMO at the time, he may have had a fair point. But the 2014 numbers - and other totals before them - suggest strongly that, while indifference may have been a factor at times, many ballots were somewhere unattended for too long a time after delivery.
Nominations due earlier
The longer voting period resulted from a resolution approved unanimously by the AMO National Executive Board on January 24 and approved unanimously by AMO members participating in the regularly scheduled AMO membership meeting at headquarters in Dania Beach on February 5. The resolution amended the AMO National Constitution to provide for the additional voting time and to modify related language in our union's governing document to reflect the principal revision.
One immediately apparent result was that the entire election timetable advanced by 30 days at the forward end to accommodate the extended voting period while holding to the ballot count in December and the required installation of elected officers in January 2019.
The most significant effect of immediate and direct interest to all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members is that nominations for elective office must now be filed between the regularly scheduled AMO membership meeting at headquarters in May and the regularly scheduled AMO membership meeting in June. The previous time frame for filing nominations was between the AMO membership meeting at headquarters in June and the AMO membership meeting at headquarters in July.
A rank and file credentials committee comprised of five AMO members and two AMO member alternates - all in good standing as defined in the AMO National Constitution - will be elected at the regularly scheduled AMO membership meeting at headquarters on June 4. This committee will determine whether nominations for elective office were submitted correctly and whether individual candidates are qualified under the AMO National Constitution.
Ballots and eligibility
Ballots will be mailed to all AMO members at their preferred addresses on Wednesday, August 1, instead of on September 1. A rank and file tallying committee will be elected during a special membership meeting one week ahead of the regularly scheduled AMO membership meeting at headquarters on December 3.
On the morning of December 3, the tallying committee and representatives of True Ballot Inc. will retrieve the ballots from the designated depository, count the ballot envelopes and transport them in a secure lockbox from the depository to headquarters. The committee will quantify the ballots and verify their validity by confirming that they were cast by AMO members in good standing for the fourth quarter. The ballots will be counted and the results announced during the recessed membership meeting. All of these procedural steps are open to direct observation by candidates for office and by all AMO members.
A right and a responsibility
The longer voting time is as close as we can get at this point to the equivalent of early voting and absentee balloting common in municipal, county, state and federal elections. It acknowledges that we have to do much better on this fundamental front. It provides all of us with a way to minimize the disturbing risk of AMO members arriving home after long rotations only to find their ballots among accumulated mail after the election has ended. And it reminds us that voting by secret ballot in AMO elections and policy referenda is both a right and a responsibility.
We'll remind all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members of both the election timetable and the need to provide headquarters with preferred addresses for ballot delivery, and we'll do this frequently.
Meanwhile, I welcome input from AMO members - questions, criticisms and comments on this or any other matter. I can be reached on the headquarters office line at 954-921-2221 (ext. 1001), toll free at 800-362-0513, on my cell at 954-881-5651 or by .