Voting in the AMS Election

Background and Considerations

[This story first appeared in the Feb. 2011 AMS Newsletter, p. 14.]

Last year a few people asked me "why should I bother to vote?" The statistics are also telling: only about a third of those eligible actually cast a vote in the AMS election. I thought it would be useful to draw members' attention to the process leading to the slate of candidates you find here, and suggest some considerations for those who may not otherwise be aware of how their vote might affect the Society.

Constructing a slate. In accordance with the AMS By-laws, we vote for officers and directors-at-large each year. The directors serve overlapping two-year terms; the President serves one preparatory year ("President-elect"), two years as President, and one concluding year ("Past President"), in order to provide as much year-to-year continuity as possible. The Vice President serves for two years. The Secretary and the Treasurer serve two-year terms and are eligible to stand for re-election, unlike the President or directors. Candidates are reviewed carefully by the Board Nominating Committee and Board of Directors each year. Both the Committee and the Board look for three basic qualifications: demonstrated experience and success in one's chosen career, evidence of success in administrative positions, and experience in Society activities. At its Fall meeting, the Board takes the Nominating Committee's report as a starting point and draws up a long list of names—for the office of President, the list might have at least six names; for Director-at-Large, at least twelve names. Individual Board members then privately rank them in order of preference in a paper ballot. The Secretary tallies the Board members' rankings. These rank-ordered lists are then followed when candidates are invited to serve. Since no one but the prospective candidates can truly know a fourth important qualification—having sufficient time available to handle the office—it is important to prepare lists long enough to account for those who decline the invitation to stand for candidacy. This is particularly true for the office of President, which requires a significant commitment over four years. This ranking and candidate-selection system has many merits, but one downside is that sometimes a slate may be underrepresented according to certain demographics. In 2010, for example, five women and only one man were on the slate of candidates for Director-at-Large. In 2011, inversely, five men and only one woman were on the slate.

Considerations in choosing candidates. The Board has not been partisan or uncomfortably argumentative in my experience. One cannot identify polarized "liberal / conservative" factions in the same way that one might find in the political sphere, nor do candidates formulate an "action agenda." A certain amount of "identity politics" is present, and probably necessary for good operations. It is useful for the Board to include a variety of members according to constituencies such as gender, age, geographical location, and type of educational institution (public or private research university, liberal arts college, etc.). It is also helpful to have Board members who have experience in budgets and staffing, or who work in places other than music departments (e.g., librarians or professionals from the field of publishing).

The ideal Board will have active members who are willing to invest time and energy, who have good experience in the work that needs to be done, and who, as a whole, bring a wide variety of perspectives to the table.

—Robert Judd

2017 AMS Election ballot (login required)

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