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General Synod digest: Concerns raised over proposals for voting systems

by
21 February 2020

Madeleine Davies, Hattie Williams, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in London

GEOFF CRAWFORD/CHURCH TIMES

A voting device in the Synod chamber

A voting device in the Synod chamber

THE General Synod approved rules for elections on Thurs­day morning. After two members said that they wished the House of Laity Election Rules 2020 to be debated, they were removed from deemed business.

Introducing the debate, Clive Scowen (London), for the Business Committee, said that the new rules included sections on online elec­tions, and a few other reforms, but largely consolidated and har­mon­ised existing rules. The online procedures would almost certainly be run by Civica Election Services. There were also new rules on ap­­peals. Many of the amendments from David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), largely governing appeals, would all be ac­­cepted by the com­mittee, he said.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Black­burn) wanted to check that the new online voting system would really work before the rules came into effect in the summer. He noted that there was no fail-safe back-up. He had other concerns that were not addressed in the guidance. If things went wrong and sparked a raft of election ap­­peals, people from certain contested dioceses would not be present for the opening of the Synod. He was yet to be convinced.

April Alexander (Southwark) raised the question of declaring in­­ter­ests and trusteeships. It also ap­­peared that dioceses were no longer required to hold election hustings. How well did the Synod represent opinion in the dioceses, she asked. Could the rules improve this?

Rhian Parsons (Leicester), as a “young person”, endorsed Mr Benfield’s worries about technology not working the first time. In con­trast, the postal system worked.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) raised a concern about the confluence of the two elections to deanery synods and to the General Synod.

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) asked what happened to those contacted by email who did not receive it.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Canterbury), asked whether, if the election was email-based, electors would see “real people from a wide variety of life”. She was disturbed by the risk of uninten­tionally disenfranchising some ethnic-minority churchpeople.

John Wilson (Lichfield) echoed concerns how often emails bounced back. It was important that nobody was excluded by email problems — or by not having an email address.

Philip French (Rochester), on the Election Review Group (ERG), said that his professional specialism was email. The email address in the new system was only a proxy for the per­son: failing to receive a particular email would not inhibit someone’s ability to vote. He urged the Synod to trust the experience of Civica Election Services.

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) wanted to say “Come on in, the water’s lovely.” The real problem with elections was low turnout.

The Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd Robert Innes, said that his dio­cese already relied heavily on email; internet voting would be a bonus.

The Revd Dr Jeremy Sheehy (Man­chester) said that many on his electoral roll who struggled to en­­gage with emails were either newer members or from ethnic-minority backgrounds.

Lucy Docherty (Portsmouth) said that the Synod had no other option; it was up to members, she said, to decide how it was going to work.

Canon Sue Booys (Oxford), chair of the ERG, said that five years ago, every speech had asked why elec­tions had not yet been made online.

Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury) asked if there was anything preventing a returning officer’s verifying an email address before the election process.

Mr Lamming’s amendments were carried. There followed a series of votes to approve rules for the 2020 elections to the three Houses of the Synod. They were all carried.

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