Don’t Let Elections Run You: Tips to Manage Your Affiliate’s Elections
By Dustin K. Hunter
Dustin K. Hunter is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is a name partner of the law firm of Kraft & Hunter, LLP in Roswell, New Mexico.
One of the most important events for volunteer leaders to manage during their terms of office is often given little advance thought—running elections for available positions in the next year’s leadership. Although the election process for each affiliate organization is necessarily as different as the organizations themselves, several common principles can help those in charge of managing their affiliate’s elections, as well as those running in the election.
Make Sure That Everyone Is Playing by the Same Rules
Whether you are running a local, regional, or statewide affiliate organization, your election process will likely be governed, in large part, by your organization’s bylaws and administrative procedures. Consequently, the number one job in running the election is to make sure that the rules, regulations, and requirements are expressly set out and adequately communicated to everyone who might be interested in running for a position. It is the job of those running the election to disseminate the information in a clear manner and make it easily obtainable by all those interested.
For example, the New Mexico Young Lawyers specifically identifies for its members the seats that are up for election and summarizes the requirements for each position, along with the requirements that must be met in order to run in the election. This information is then sent to each young lawyer capable of holding the position. “Often, some of the most important work we do in the election process is on the front end. By making sure that the available positions are well-advertised and the criteria clearly set forth, we are doing a service to ourselves and the bar by helping to ensure qualified individuals choose to run,” says Brent Moore, Chair of the New Mexico Young Lawyers. “Many young lawyers may not think about running for a seat until they see the notification provided by the New Mexico Young Lawyers,” Moore notes.
Use Elections as a Recruiting Opportunity
In many affiliate elections, not every post will be contested or even initially sought. Thus, as the head of your affiliate organization, this presents an excellent opportunity to try to identify those who might be a fit for leadership positions in your organization as a whole. Elections are great opportunities to recruit future leaders and elevate those who have shown a strong history of bar service. According to Bill Miller, President of the Texas Young Lawyers, “Helping to identify capable people to fill available positions is something that should be taken seriously. It is an awesome opportunity to help advance the bar by encouraging well-qualified individuals to step into the arena.” By working with members of other affiliate organizations or simply with those who have been previously active in your own, you can identify and recruit ideal members who will serve the organization for many years to come.
When recruiting potential candidates, you might encounter some initial resistance, but this can be overcome by explaining the advantages of running in the election. “There is really no downside to running in an affiliate election,” says Miller. “You get to meet a lot of interesting people and get your name out in the public for future career advancement.”
Ensure That Advertising Is Fair and Unbiased
Once the process of getting on the ballot has closed, the election itself should be adequately advertised. Two types of advertising should be considered: (1) advertising by the affiliate organization about the election day as well as the candidates who are running and (2) advertising by the individual candidates.
Advertising by the affiliate organization is important because you can make sure that the information is accurate, complete, fair, and timely. Common methods of distributing information regarding the election include advertisements and announcements in your affiliate’s journal or newsletter, e-mail communications, and announcements in the senior bar journal. “The Texas Young Lawyers go to great lengths to ensure that upcoming positions are adequately advertised in an effort to encourage as many people as are interested to run in the election,” Miller notes. “We advertise in the Texas Bar Journal, e-mail all members, and specifically correspond with the chairs of other affiliate organizations in the state to ensure that everyone interested in running has the information needed.”
Just as important in some affiliate elections, however, is advertising by the candidates themselves. Most affiliates do not have formal rules regarding advertising by individual candidates. In these situations individual advertising should be reviewed by the governing board of the affiliate to ensure that it is accurate and does not violate the spirit of the election. Some affiliate organizations go further and specifically regulate the types and amount of campaigning that is allowed. “In Texas,” explains Miller, “campaign materials, web pages, and e-mail communications are strictly regulated to ensure that each candidate is on an equal footing and that the focus of the election is on the candidate’s credentials, where it belongs.” The key to both types of oversight, however, is good communication between the candidates and the governing board regarding what is expected in the election and how it is to be run.
Ensure That the Highest Standards Are Observed
The candidates running in the election need advice and supervision from the leaders of the affiliate organization to ensure that they run their elections properly and with the dignity that the positions deserve. It is important to make sure the candidates know that they should not run negative campaigns and, in fact, probably should not run advertisements that are against their opponent. “Elections are nonpartisan and the candidates tend to run on their history of bar, community, and civic service. It is our policy to specifically talk to candidates and ask them to run positive campaigns that focus on their positives and not try to run negatively against the other party or parties,” Miller observes.
Affiliate leaders should remind candidates that they are just starting their legal careers and that they want to continue to develop favorable reputations. Moore, Chair of the New Mexico Young Lawyers, advises that “candidates should be mindful that as a young lawyer your career is just starting out, and you do not want to damage your professional reputation by being overly aggressive in your election. Ambition sometimes drives one to do things that one would not otherwise do.”