Actuaries Debate the CAS Election Process
by Arthur J. Schwartz
In November 1999 the CAS established a task force to review the CAS election process. In July 2000 the task force made its recommendations in a final report, which is available to CAS members on the CAS Web Site under “Member Services.” One of the report’s recommendations, which the board of directors accepted, was to publish articles about the election process in The Actuarial Review. The purposes of publishing such pieces are to educate the members about the election process and also to stimulate greater participation in the elections.
A Brief Description of the CAS Election Process
In the spring, the nominating committee solicits the names of candidates for its consideration through a “preferential ballot” process. The nominating committee reviews these candidates and selects a slate of one candidate for the president-elect position and eight candidates for the four positions on the board. This slate of candidates is published in the summer. Once the slate of candidates has been published in mid- July, any Fellow can add his or her name to the ballot by petition. The names of additional candidates are posted on the CAS Web Site in mid- August, at the close of the petitioning process.
Around the first of September, the ballots are sent out with a list of all candidates and their responses to several questions. The voting commences immediately. The results are announced on the CAS Web Site in early October and at the CAS Annual Meeting in November.
Stan Khury, John Purple, and Ed Shoop joined me last August in discussing the CAS election process.
Khury has a lengthy record of service to the CAS. His Proceedings papers have won the Woodward-Fondiller and Dorweiler Prizes. He has served on the CAS Board of Directors intermittently for more than a dozen years and was CAS president in 1984. He is a principal with the firm of Bass & Khury in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Purple chaired the CAS Task Force on the Election Process. He has served as chairperson of numerous committees and as a member of the CAS Board of Directors (1995-1997). He is the chief actuary for the Connecticut Insurance Department, in Hartford.
Shoop has personal experience as a three-time candidate for the Board of Directors and has served on a wide range of CAS committees including Long Range Planning. He is a consultant who specializes in workers compensation and lives in Somis, CA.
Schwartz: Some have commented that nominating one person for an office is not a real election. On the other hand, a competitive election could shift the president’s role too far towards that of a policy maker, and it has been the long tradition of the CAS that the board, not the president, sets the policy. What is your view?
Shoop: I appreciate the reminder that it is a long tradition. I have been a Fellow for 22 years now, and I think we all need to be reminded of this often: the board sets the policy. It’s important because when I was considering running for the board, I made a courtesy call to the past and current presidents and the president-elect.
When I said that I would be running as a candidate by petition, one of them asked me, “Why would anyone want to be on the board?” This question was terribly uninspiring. Being on the board and serving is precisely why I wanted to run. It’s good to hear the further explanation of the role of the president.
Of course, presenting one candidate for office, by definition, is not a real election.
Khury: Some Fellows may not want to run in a competitive election. They don’t want the risk; they don’t want to be seen as a “loser.” Yet they are cut out for high office and leadership and are perfectly qualified. So far as the president’s role, he or she is the primus inter pares, first among equals. The president’s vote gets no more weight than a board member’s vote. The president’s position in some ways is not as important as a board member, since policy takes years to develop. The president’s term comes and goes in one year—it is over really quickly.
Purple: The president-elect position is similar to becoming a three-year member of the board. One year is served as president-elect, one year as president, and one year as [immediate] past president. The position is similar to a board member who is elected for a three-year term.
Shoop: Thanks, I hadn’t thought of it that way. On another point, I believe that to have one person nominated for a position is ludicrous. Voting for one person [in a one-person field] can not pretend to be a true election.
Khury: How does it help to have more than one candidate for president elect? If someone petitions, they can run for the office; so we can have competitive elections. As it is, the membership, with a single exception, has always chosen to go along with a single candidate. The fact is this condition is not unalterable. It is indeed possible to have a [competitive] election, as we have had once before and we are about to have this year.
Purple: The task force considered this issue carefully. When we started, if you had taken a poll of the members’ views, I believe they almost certainly would have recommended that the CAS adopt competitive elections for the president-elect’s office. I myself was leaning in that direction. From the outside, it seems like a sham election, since a voter can either vote for the nominated candidate, or withhold their vote. However, the task force surveyed other professional organizations, as well as our own membership, and what we learned had us rethink our positions.
For example, while the SOA holds a very competitive election for president, the majority of other professional organizations do not. Basically, after extensive discussion of the pros and cons, the task force concluded that making the president’s role subject to a competitive election would not be in the best interests of the CAS. This came from three observations.
First, the position should not be overly politicized. The CAS is an organization of professionals, and serving as president is a volunteer position. The real issue is: if someone really wants to be president, is there a barrier now? Our conclusion was no. Second, the president’s primary role is to implement the policy decisions of the board.
The president should be a “doer” rather than a maker of policy. Third, we didn’t want to discourage anyone. If there’s a competitive election, there’s a winner and a loser. That may preclude a good person from running. The task force’s conclusion was that a competitive election was not the way to go. If I were setting policy, a prerequisite to the president-elect position would be that you would have to previously have been elected to the board.
Khury: Has an “outsider”—someone who had never served on the board—ever been nominated for president- elect?
Purple: As far as I know, no. Thus, previous service as a board member is a de facto requirement for becoming president-elect.
Khury: The process of finding someone to serve as president-elect is similar to the board of a corporation that is looking for a CEO. The corporation’s board is looking for someone who can do the job, someone who can implement the board’s decision.
The president’s role is somewhat of a caretaker job. It should not be based on who may be the most popular, but on who can connect the dots, as it were. Further, the president has the executive council to help implement policy decisions of the board.
Schwartz: For 2001, the board has approved the following two questions: “Why do you want to be a member of the board of directors?” and “What qualities and experience would you bring to the board”? (There will be similar questions for the candidates for president-elect.) Some have commented that these questions do not allow the voters to learn the candidates’ positions on various issues. Thus, voters do not get the information needed to make an informed choice. Also, there is no established discussion forum, either via CASNET or the CAS message boards, to make any public statements about their positions on various issues or to answer questions from voters. The intent, I believe, is to avoid active “campaigning” for office. Is this in the best interests of the Society?
Shoop: If one accepts the premise that the CAS does not hold real elections, then there is no point in having the “candidates” for president-elect respond to questions on issues. However, [some] members are saying that they do want to know where the candidates stand.
Schwartz: Should this be on CASNET or the CAS Web Site?
Shoop: Either. I would let the candidates state their positions and respond to questions from voters. If the board constrains the questions, the result is a perception of a tightly controlled process that they don’t want to relinquish, that they don’t want to open up.
Khury: What is the problem with a brokered selection? All that matters is that the selected individual does a good job for the duration of their term. Shoop: There’s no choice.
Khury: That’s the path the CAS has chosen as best for it...The perception that there’s no choice for the president elect position is no great discovery. It may be a tightly controlled process, but that’s not wrong, evil, or bad if in fact it produces people who can do the job.
If the Nominating Committee serves up a candidate who, in the opinion of some, is not the strongest candidate, then it is likely that someone else will step up...and have their name placed in nomination. We have had this once before and we are about to have it again.
Shoop: Well, [some of] the members are not pleased.
Purple: The task force considered this. The board said that feedback from the members were that they wanted more information on the candidates running for the board. The feedback was that, as the CAS grows, fewer people know a specific candidate, and resumes are not enough. The task force also considered the possibility of campaigning for office and having discussion forums. They felt that was going too far. Don’t forget that the candidates have real, full-time jobs. Having to respond to unlimited questions or to prepare position statements on complex issues may discourage well-qualified candidates. The task force chose a middle ground. Having two questions probably doesn’t go far enough. I’d like to see a question like “What are one or two of the top challenges facing the CAS?” I’d like to see more open-ended questions. The main thing I’m looking for in a candidate for the board is a commitment to serve. I have been on the board myself. Some board members missed meetings, did not participate in the discussions, or had not read the material that had been distributed in advance of the meetings. I want someone who is going to attend all the meetings and [is] an active participant.
[Editor’s Note: According to CAS Executive Director Tim Tinsley, a 1998 Board policy regarding attendance states that if a board member is unable to attend at least three board meetings in any given year, an offer to resign is expected, to be accepted by the chair at his or her discretion.]
Khury: I would agree strongly with John’s comments on the commitment to serve. Being on the board means you’re going to do some work. There’s really no glory there, just a lot of work.
For candidates for president-elect, I don’t know if I would want them answering questions. If you had to interview and qualify for any elected position, it might discourage some people.
The Nominating Committee is choosing those people who are most likely to succeed. So far as questions go, I wouldn’t add much to the questions posed. Basically, serving on the board or as president-elect, offers some recognition by one’s colleagues, but not much else. The president in particular is probably spending half [of his or her] time, in addition to a full-time job, on CAS issues. Also, I don’t think questions on the issues are that meaningful.
Consider that many issues take several years to develop. We cannot predict what issues are going to come up during the tenure of the successful candidate.
The real questions are: “Is this person authentic? Are they going to represent the members’ interests?” On some issues, time has to be spent gathering data. You can’t really know what issues you’ll be dealing with on the board. So the meaningfulness of a candidates’ statement of their position on various issues is highly and erroneously way overrated.
Shoop: I also agree with the need for a strong commitment to serve. That’s self-evident. I like what you’ve said about the president being the “doer.” But I can’t get comfortable with not wanting a candidate to answer questions.
I definitely agree that the president needs to be somebody who can be effective in implementing the policies of the board, although she or he may not be permitted to be a policy maker. Maybe the answer here is to stop the sham of electing a president and admit that what is really being sought here is an effective chief operating officer.
Let the board “hire” one by simple appointment. Take the office of the president right off the ballot.
Purple: The task force’s actual recommendation was that the Nominating Committee could present one or several candidates to the board. Then the board would elect the president-elect. The members would not have to know who had been in contention. Yet the board did not accept this recommendation.
They may have felt that there would be too many changes to the CAS Bylaws and the Constitution or that this would take the election process totally away from the members. However, this recommendation would have removed the issue of how to deal with a petitioned candidate.
Part Two of the discussion will appear in the next issue of The AR. Questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.