April in Minnesota can be damp, dreary, and cold. This past weekend was unbelievably nice. Saturday was a glorious, sunny, 80-degree day.
That’s why I’m almost embarrassed to report I spent the whole day in a dark, stuffy, middle school auditorium at a political convention. If you’re interested, you can read the background on my blog.
The 18-item agenda had two big, time-consuming tasks that needed to be accomplished that day:
- Endorse a candidate in a state house race. There were three strong contenders.
- Select delegates for the state convention.
The endorsement contest was expected to be a multi-ballot activity that could easily drag on more than three hours. The delegate selection process was a complicated task that would likely take at least 90 minutes, but could also go more than two hours.
And it’s with this background you should know there was some strong disagreement about the order for these two items on the agenda.
Option 1: The Traditional Way
The agenda rarely changes from convention to convention. There are a bunch of smaller items that get sorted through first. Then they do endorsements. Finally they select delegates to the state convention.
You might find it interesting to know one reason for doing it this way is because people who are willing to spend a beautiful spring day inside often do this because they want to spend an early summer weekend inside at the state convention. The only way they can get there is through their local convention. By putting the item they care about at the end, it forces them to sit through all the stuff they don’t care much about to get to the part they do.
This is important because conventions to need hold 50% +1 of registered delegates in the room to conduct business. If it falls below that number the convention would have to adjourn. Planners are worried that if they offer the dessert before the veggies, people will leave, and they won’t have a way to finish the business.
A second reason for doing it this way is because the selection process involves splitting into lots of small groups and then those small groups select delegates from within their groups. Some small groups finish long before others. By having this activity at the end of the convention, those who finish early can leave and aren’t stuck waiting around for the slower groups.
In the past, if the early work takes too long, those folks who just want to get to the next level become awfully grumpy. Still, the folks running the convention believe their two reasons are strong justification for keeping it as is.
Option 2: Do Endorsements After Delegate Selection
This year’s proposed agenda was the traditional order explained above, but unlike past years a small battle broke out over it.
The group charged with creating the agenda were split, almost down the middle. A contingent argued for putting endorsements last. To understand why, you need a bit of background.
The convention was charged with endorsing in three races:
- Senate District 49
- House District 49A
- House District 49B
The only contest was in 49A. The senator and the 49B representative were both incumbents and unopposed for endorsement. While everybody would vote for the senator, the convention needed to split into house districts to deal with each of those races. Only delegates who lived in house district 49A would vote for endorsement in that contest.
So the people who wanted to make the change argued we should first do the business that requires everyone and leave the business that requires only the 49A people until last. That way delegates from 49B could go home and not sit through what everyone knew would be a long endorsement process for 49A.
They were right in one way. The 49A process took more than five hours. During this time the 49B delegation had nothing to do. I noticed their numbers dwindling throughout the day. If I were them, I would have suggested grabbing some food and reconvening outside for a picnic. They could have enjoyed the beautiful weather and talked politics all afternoon. For political junkies, that could have been kind of fun.
The problem with this proposed change was that the people initiating it appeared to all support the same candidate. The other two campaigns didn’t believe the suggestion was made to benefit the 49B people, but rather it was a calculated move to give one campaign a strategic edge in the contest.
When approval of the agenda was before the convention, a delegate made a motion to make this change. It was voted down.
Option 3: Something Completely Different
There was another option that the convention did not consider, but could have. I told a couple people on the planning committee about it. I considered offering it as a motion to the delegates but then backed off because I didn’t want to be viewed as manipulating the process. I believe it would have shaved a couple hours off the length of the convention.
The convention could have taken up the endorsement for 49A immediately following the approval of the agenda. The prelims of candidate speeches and a Q&A session would have taken about 30 minutes. After that we could have taken the first vote.
When the votes were being counted, which usually took at least 20 minutes, the convention could have taken up its other business while waiting for the results. Almost everything else that happened that day, with the exception of selecting delegates to the state, could have easily fit into the dead time that happened between ballots. There were eventually six ballots that day.
I can see two major arguments against this method. The first I heard expressed. The second, I did not.
People said this would be too confusing. They’d get lost in the agenda and wouldn’t know where things are at. I don’t buy it. The concept isn’t that hard. You simply show people the agenda and point out that there will be a lot of down time between ballots which will be filled with the other business on the agenda, done in the order listed. Does that sound complicated to you?
The one I didn’t hear was that there wouldn’t be time for delegate arm-twisting between votes. For the convention to move towards consensus, some people need to change their votes. The campaigns know this, and send out operatives to persuade delegates to make the switch.
This, to me, seems like a reasonable argument if that’s indeed why delegates switch who they support. I suspect some were talked into it between ballots. Many probably changed their minds on their own.
This convention had two major pieces of business to complete, and I’ve just offered three ways it could have happened. Each has strengths and weaknesses.
The choice did have a major impact on the length of the convention and the number of people who stuck it out. I’m a political junkie, but even I left after the endorsement because I was too tired to care anymore about what happened in delegate selection.
When you think about the agenda for your meeting, identify all the options and then consider the effect each option will have. It’s only after doing this that you’ll make a good decision about how your meeting should be ordered.