Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Parliamentary Maneuvers in 59A Fail to Block Endorsement
Post and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman, video from a previous candidate forum, not from the senate district convention.
The parliamentary order used to run meetings as small as neighborhood or church council and as large as political conventions has two guiding principles that participants too often forget. First, it's supposed to make sense. Second, people with a superior knowledge of parliamentary procedure are not supposed to use that knowledge to manipulate the outcome of a meeting. Think of David Carradine's character in Kung Fu - a Shaolin monk who was a master of martial arts but never really used that to fight anyone. The meeting or convention that uses parliamentary order might have plenty of drama, but the application of Robert's Rules of Order should have all the excitement of two people exchanging business cards in slow motion after they've taken an Ambien.
Clearly this is not what happened in the DFL convention for the house seat in 59A. Joe Mullery did get the endorsement, but only after a series of convoluted parliamentary maneuvers. I was in the midst of the 59B stalemate, and only heard snippets of how things were proceeding. Challengers David Younk, David Boyd, and (surprisingly for a sitting elected official) Jon Olson were eliminated from contention after the first ballot, leaving Marcus Harcus to either claim or block a DFL endorsement of the incumbent. In an ironic twist of fate, Mullery was at one time a single vote short of the nomination. Had I already moved into 59A, I would have cast that clinching vote. On two other occasions, there were enough spoiled ballots (the delegate did not sign the back of the ballot as required - even an x, or line, or anything that could remotely be construed as a signature would have validated those votes) that would have given Mullery the endorsement before the drama of the last vote.
I heard several versions of what transpired while at the convention itself. Later on North Talk and on his own Facebook page, Harcus posted his version of the events. After speaking with several credible sources, here is what I believe to be a fairly accurate recounting...
...The floor was "frozen," meaning no one from the outside may enter, and anyone leaving during a frozen floor may not return until the floor is un-frozen. This is done to ensure the integrity of the ballot, that everyone present in the room at the time of the vote is indeed an eligible voter. Even Senator Higgins, herself a resident of 59B, was asked to leave the frozen floor of 59A. As ballots were being passed out, some delegates called for a suspension of the rules so that a quorum could be confirmed.
Without a sufficient number of attendees that adequately represents the group as a whole, the meeting itself is out of order. The call for a quorum at such a time is ostensibly used to ensure that enough delegates were still present and accounted for. The motion to suspend the rules and verify a quorum passed, and when it did, but before the quorum was counted, several of the delegates who called for a quorum got up and left.
Now would be an important time to remind readers that these house conventions had to end within five hours of the election of a chair. So the tactic employed was seen by many as an attempt to either lower the numbers below the required amount for a quorum or to run out the clock and block an endorsement that way. Both reasons fall outside of at least the spirit of parliamentary law, in that the effort was clearly meant to arrive at a certain result. Furthermore, the call for a quorum was unnecessary as well. the body was in the midst of casting ballots. A simple count of ballot totals would have verified within minutes whether the previous vote had enough people participating.
As these delegates were leaving, one of the sergeants-at-arms informed them they may not be able to return. Those delegates argued that the suspension of the rules would allow them to return. The sergeant-at-arms disagreed and informed them so. A quorum was verified, the floor was frozen (with, contrary to some accounts, sufficient notification from the chair), and balloting resumed. Only then did the delegates who left try to return. They were not allowed to do so, and were quite insistent about it.
Now would also be a good time to make sure the role of the sergeant-at-arms is clear. Once a floor has been frozen, he or she has one job to do, and that's it. Keep people off of the floor who are not supposed to be there, so that the integrity of the vote being taken cannot be called into question. People may be allowed on the floor if the convention chair grants permission, but that's about it. The ruckus got the attention of the convention's parliamentarian, who spoke with the parties involved, and took the matter to the chair, who decided that the floor should remain frozen with no exceptions.
There were some reports I had heard while in my convention that the sergeant-at-arms had left his post to cast a ballot, and in so doing, allowed people on the floor to spoil the vote. There doesn't seem to be much truth to that rumor. The person did leave the post to cast a ballot, but the parliamentarian temporarily took over the role and the floor remained frozen. Even so, a vote was taken about whether this vote was indeed valid, and the ballot was upheld by a large margin.
From these accounts, it would appear that allegations of cheating are greatly exaggerated. To the extent that there were attempts to inappropriately use parliamentary procedure, those attempts did not come from the prevailing side.