Elections: In the Eye of the Beholder?
I have before me the ballots for two societies, casualty and life. We are choosing presidents-elect; it is my duty as a Fellow to vote.
The casualty ballot is easier. The Nominating Committee has thoughtfully made the choice for me. If I approve, I can vote yes. If I do not approve, I can withhold my vote. Either way I will read soon in The Actuarial Review that the candidate was elected president by vote of the members.
The life ballot is harder. There are three candidates each year. We are sent biographical sketches of each in a thick ballot form, along with short statements of their views. We also receive a special supplement to The Actuary, a sort of written debate, consisting of each candidate's responses to a dozen questions about the future direction of the society.
There is too much to read here. Even if I do read it all, would I know for whom to vote? And it would take weeks afterwards to find out if I voted for the winner.
The casualty ballot form is not just easier; it is more pleasant. I know the candidate. I can tell him that I voted for him, and I can congratulate him on becoming president-elect. I don't even have to wait for the election to congratulate him; I can send him an e-mail right now.
The life actuarial ballot form is not pleasant at all. I know two of the candidates; I can't vote for one without insulting the other. I surely can't vote for the third without insulting both of them.
I think back to college days, to a course on political science. Nowadays, everyone has elections. There are elections in the U.S.; there were elections in Soviet Russia; there are elections in Communist China. In the U.S., the president is chosen at the ballot box; in Soviet Russia, the president was chosen in closed chambers. But no president is legitimate unless he has won an election.
I call a good friend, also a Fellow of both societies. I express my wonderment at the difference between the two societies. I ask him which way is better.
"Hard to tell," he says. "Perhaps it's good to have a president elected by the members; that's the American way. Perhaps the current leadership knows best who would make a good president."
He's right, of course. The Nominating Committee can take account of myriad factors that the membership would ignore. The committee knows who has worked on past Society activities; the committee knows who is good at managing Society activities and speaking at Society meetings; the committee knows who best upholds the Society's ideals. The committee carefully considers several candidates before selecting the best to be president-elect.
One can only feel sorry for our life brethren. Those poor candidates, each of whom desires to be president-elect, but two of whom will be deeply disappointed. Those poor members, who will read pages of questions and answers about the future direction of their Society, but who will never become as good judges as our own Nominating Committee. All this wasted effort, simply to do things the American way.
I fill out our ballot form. I make a note to send a congratulatory e-mail to the candidate on his forthcoming victory.
Editor's note: The CAS leadership is in the process of reviewing its election procedures, based on input from the CAS membership survey and other sources, through a task force chaired by John Purple. Any recommended changes in the elections procedures will be discussed at the February Board meeting. If you have any suggestions for changes please forward them to Pat Grannan or John Purple, in care of the CAS Office.