The 2016 UFMCC Moderator’s Election by the Numbers

Yesterday I had the opportunity to observe the business meeting of the General Conference of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

One of the more interesting parts of the business meeting for me was the moderator’s election and its failure to elect a new moderator. I think this outcome was interesting because there were several excellent candidates running for moderator, and it seemed clear that the vast majority of the delegates to the conference wanted to elect a new moderator. So with excellent candidates and a clear desire to elect a moderator, how is it that the General Conference ended up with a vacancy in the moderator’s position?

Given that I enjoy following elections and how they work, I thought I would try to play Nate Silver and try to explain how this result came to be, because I am sure that people who could not attend will be curious.

I’ll start right off by admitting some of my biases. While I haven’t been actively involved with MCC since 2010, I was very involved with MCC from 1998 to 2010, serving in a variety of leadership roles. This culminated with serving as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Jose for six and half years. I am personally familiar with three of the candidates who ran: Darlene Garner, Diane Fisher, and Irene Laudeman. I think any of them would have been a great choice. They all have strong leadership qualities and an honest devotion to MCC. I don’t know Hector Gutierrez as well as I know the other three, but I trust that he is also an excellent candidate.

The candidates were selected by a moderator’s nominating committee. This committee had been working for quite some time to:

  • Gather input from throughout MCC about what qualities a moderator should have,
  • Recruit candidates that met those criteria, and
  • Present those candidates to MCC’s General Conference.

Once the candidates were presented, General Conference voted on them. Votes were done in two houses: clergy delegates and lay delegates.  In order to be elected, a candidate needed to have more than 50% of the vote in both the clergy house and the lay house.

The established procedure was to do four rounds of voting until there was a winning candidate.

Here’s how the voting played out

First Round

Clergy House

Fisher       28%
Garner       25%
Gutierrez    17%
Laudeman     18%
Abstain      12%

Lay House

Fisher       31%
Garner       25%
Gutierrez    14%
Laudeman     22%
Abstain       9%

Second Round

Clergy House

Fisher       32%
Garner       27%
Gutierrez    12%
Laudeman     17%
Abstain      11%

Lay House

Fisher       39%
Garner       27%
Gutierrez     9%
Laudeman     15%
Abstain       8%

Third Round

Clergy House

Fisher       38%
Garner       31%
Gutierrez     6%
Laudeman     10%
Abstain      13%

Lay House

Fisher       44%
Garner       27%
Gutierrez     6%
Laudeman     12%
Abstain       9%

It is worth noting that in all three rounds of voting, about 90% of the delegates had at least one candidate that they wanted as moderator. All four candidates started with support in both houses, but as the rounds went on, it was clear that Fisher and Garner were pulling ahead.

After the third round of voting, first Irene Laudeman and then Hector Gutierrez decided to withdraw their nominations. While I have not discussed this with either of them, I believe that they stepped aside in the hopes that this would allow another candidate to get the 50% needed to win election.

After each candidate withdrew, the assembled delegates gave that candidate a standing ovation in thanks for their candidacy and for their willingness to step aside for the good of the denomination.

In the fourth round, Diane Fisher came very close to winning election. The numbers for that round were:

Fourth Round

Clergy House

Fisher       44%
Garner       39%
Abstain      16%

Lay House

Fisher       56%
Garner       32%
Abstain      10%

Even with just two candidates remaining, it was still the case that 84% of the clergy house and 90% of the lay house had at least one candidate that they wanted to see as moderator. However, neither candidate had the required 50% in both houses.

At this point, the planned process had been completed, and no candidate had been elected. Unless another round of voting was added, the moderator position would remain vacant.

After some discussion, the General Conference decided to hold one additional round of voting. However, the vote to do this was close, and nearly failed in the clergy house. I cannot speak to the motivations of the clergy who did not want to go another round. Some may have felt that it was important for the process to be executed as originally planned, and that an additional round was not appropriate. Others may have felt that it would not be good to have a moderator candidate elected by a narrow margin. I am sure that there were as many reasons as there were people voting.

This did, however, lead to an outcome that I found surprising, which is that in the clergy house, the percentages in favor of both candidates went down in the fifth round of voting.

Fifth Round

Clergy House

Fisher       42%
Garner       30%
Abstain      26%

Lay House

Fisher      60%
Garner      26%
Abstain     12%

These numbers seem to indicate that people who supported the candidates in the fourth round withdrew their support in the fifth round. My best guess is that there were people in room who liked and supported one or both of the two remaining candidates, but who did not feel that they could support the idea of the election going to the fifth round when it had been originally described as limited to four rounds.

The fifth round of voting ended the election process. The moderator position was declared vacant, and the assembly gave the remaining two candidates a standing ovation in thanks for their willingness to serve.

I will admit that I was a little disappointed by this outcome. With so many good candidates, it was frustrating that General Conference wasn’t able to elect one of them. With that said, I have faith in God and faith in MCC. I believe that MCC will find a good leader, and I believe that the process was conducted with integrity and good faith by all involved.

Having seen the hard work that goes into the process of choosing a moderator, I am glad that I am not responsible for the elections process.  However, I would make two suggestions that might be helpful going forward:

  • First, I believe that four rounds is not enough when there are four candidates. For contested elections, I think that it would be better to have two more rounds than there are candidates. So, six rounds if there are four candidates, five rounds if there are three candidates, etc.
  • Second, I would encourage General Conference to show the voting numbers and how they changed for each round on the projection screen in the conference hall. As it was, the numbers were read aloud. This meant that by the end of the third round, it would be difficult for most people to keep of all of the numbers in their heads to see how they were changing.  I think a visual presentation of these data would have been helpful to both the candidates and the voters.

I will close by thanking the candidates, the moderator nominating committee, and all of the people who voted their conscience at General Conference this year.  While the outcome may not have been what anyone expected, I am sure that God is not done with any of us yet.

13 thoughts on “The 2016 UFMCC Moderator’s Election by the Numbers”

  1. As someone who has been involved with MCC since 1991 and a lay delegate since 1995 … Thank you for a very thorough and thoughtful summary and analysis.

  2. Why the abstintions? As a Delegate to each house, your purpose was to do business. I can’t imagine enough conflicts of interest to force that many voters in all those rounds to abstain, unless they were trying to negatively affect the outcome. In short, this was a repudiation of the slate by the Clergy House, and as a person in the pews, that fact does not escape me. Fortunately, the local church I attend is healthy, and will continue in our mission to share Christ-like love to all…even obstinate clergy of our denomination.

  3. Trent Thornly of MCC San Francisco made some comments on this that I found very helpful (quoted with permission):

    “My own discernment evolved from strongly preferring to elect a new Moderator — to accepting, by the fourth and fifth ballot, that maybe it was not ideal for a new leader take this mantle with a bare majority of a divided assembly in this critical time of transition, and after the historic terms of Troy and Nancy — to affirming, in the end, that [having an interim chosen by the board of governors] was the wisest and, ironically, most unifying choice we could have made. I pray our congregations keep faith. And that this choice is viewed as a mature expression of our collective spirit, that the interim period is an active one of clearing out what needs to be cleared out and healing what needs to be healed, and that we continue steadfastly, in a slightly longer process than expected, to emerge stronger, more vitalized, and with renewed purpose and commitment to our call. Much gratitude to the candidates and nominating committee. Many prayers and well-wishes for the discernment of the new Governing Board.”

  4. Mike, I really appreciate your analysis. While I too was disappointed that a moderator was not elected, I am getting used to the idea of an interim. I wonder how MCC would be different today if there had been an interim between Troy and Nancy? (Please note I am not saying Nancy should not have been moderator; I believe that was meant to be; I only wonder how an interim would have made transition smoother for those who were so attached to Troy.) I am excited by the individuals who were elected to the Governing Board and trust that they will make a good decision, IF they are not hampered in that process by politics or outside influence.

  5. Helpful comments. I contend the election process will fail every time if any house feels strongly for more than one candidate. 84% of the Clergy who voted in Round 1 voted for a candidate and 71% voted for a candidate in Round 5, however no one candidate achieved 51% of the vote in any round. Bottom-line, the election process benefits a front-runner candidate, which may be unrealistic in this day and age given MCC’s incredible talent. Steadfastly praying God’s will for MCC is achieved.

  6. thank you for presenting this. i think it would have been useful to also consider events that occurred prior to the general conference when studying these voting patterns.

  7. This information was helpful. I was not at the conference and have been apart of MCC since 1986. The fact that there were those in the clergy who chose not to vote and did so in all rounds is of concern to me. I have to wonder if their concerns were known ahead of time and if not why not.

  8. Would it not be helpful to remove the abstain votes completely, apportioning the percentage across the votes actually cast? That would assure 1 of 2 candidates would be elected if there were only 2 candidates left running.

    That would have the following Round Five result …

    Clergy House

    Fisher 58%
    Garner 42%

    Lay House

    Fisher 69%
    Garner 30%

    Maybe I’m unaware of a subtlety here? I’m thinking that an “Abstain” vote would be an indication of indecision about the choice of moderator, not indecision about whether to appoint a moderator at all?

  9. Thank you for sharing your analysis, Mike.
    I was part of the voting, and after the first round I think we knew that there was something going on. All the different votes were so close to each other!
    In the end my conclusion is: We did not fail in voting a new moderator – we voted for not having a new moderator now.
    Being led by a range of feelings and being led by the Spirit were both at work, I think.

    Elisa, you make an interesting comment: “the election process benefits a front-runner candidate, which may be unrealistic in this day and age given MCC’s incredible talent” – would you like to share some more thoughts on this?

  10. Looking at the episcopal elections for the United Methodist Church, Karen Oliveto was just elected bishop after 17 rounds of voting. In the South Central District, it took 35 rounds of voting in order to elect the bishops for that district. The district where the episcopal elections went fastest took 10 rounds of voting.

  11. Thanks, Mike, for this clarifying documentation of what happened. As someone who was not there, I was troubled by the pastoral letter from the Board of Elders about racism and misogyny, and got an alarming impression of the election process. I agree with naomihasavoice that eliminating the abstentions might have served the process. When I don’t vote on something or someone, it’s because I don’t know enough and prefer leaving it to those more informed to decide.

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