Sunday, March 1, 2009

Weekly 08-B vote wrapup: the anti-equality deck-stacking begins

This wrapup has a combination of statistics, comments, and advisories.

As I noted a few weeks back, there are a significant number of presbyteries with strong anti-equality voting records. The 13 presbytery votes over the past week included 10 of these "likely no" presbyteries, so the vote totals this week are very lopsided towards "no" votes.

The big news this week is that the 15 no-to-yes presbytery vote flips of the previous several weeks have both frightened and motivated the anti-LGBT forces within the denomination. We're now starting to see an increase in anti-08B activity at the presbytery level, including the use of antidemocratic tactics such as suppressing presbytery meeting discussion of 08-B. The largest disappointment this week was in Indian Nations, a target no-to-yes swing presbytery, where the anti-08B side successfully used debate-suppression and was able to nudge the "yes" vote just under 50%. Had 08-B been given a fair and open discussion from Presbytery floor, as is generally required by Presbyterian polity, Indian Nations very likely would have voted "yes" on 08-B.

I should be clear about the impact of what we've learned from the past week. If you're in a presbytery which has a good chance of a vote flip this year, YOUR PRESBYTERY IS A TARGET FOR VOTING PROCESS ABUSE during your presbytery meeting. You should do what you can both before and during your presbytery meeting to ensure that 08-B is given a fair, deliberative discussion and a fair vote. If you feel that the process isn't fair, at the very least please make some noise about it, under the "sunlight is the best disinfectant" principle.

Here are some popular tactics that can be used by anti-equality groups to game the voting system so that pro-equality overtures have a reduced probability of success at the presbytery level:

- "Stifle the Spirit" tactic: Don't allow discussion of the equality overture, just go directly to a vote. Variation: schedule only a token time interval for discussion.

- "Public intimidation" tactic: Don't use secret ballots -- make people stand up in the middle of presbytery meeting to have their vote counted. Works particularly well in presbyteries with a strong majority on either side.

- "Endurance test" tactic: Schedule the vote on the overture at the end of a 7-hour meeting so that younger voters with kids at home have to leave before the vote.

- "Consent calendar" tactic: Put a "no" vote on the overture onto the consent calendar to try to sneak it through. Even if pro-equality supporters catch this trick, they then have to go through procedural hoops on the floor of presbytery to get the item removed from the consent calendar.

This is just my off-the-cuff list -- I'm confident that there are other tactics that can be, and have been, used to create an unfair context for voting.


With those preliminaries and warnings out of the way, let's go into the summary and the vote-by-vote comments.


Yes votes: 2
No votes: 11
No-to-yes flips: 0 out of a target 1
Previous "yes" presbyteries held at "yes": 2 out of 2
Presbyteries shifting pro-equality: 8
Presbyteries shifting anti-equality: 2
Nasty surprises: 1 (Indian Nations)
Amazingly positive surprises (unexpected flips): 0
Annoyances: 1 (Missouri Union)
Bruce's ranking of the week: "stormy with anti-gay pushback"

Roughly in order of neutral, then annoying, then good news, here are the recent votes that I'm aware of:


2001-2 01-A: Voice vote "no"
2009 08-B: 24 yes, 79 no --> 23% YES

2001-2 01-A: Voice vote "no"
2009 08-B: 4 yes, 101 no --> 4% YES

New Harmony
2001-2 01-A: Voice vote "no"
2009 08-B: 20 yes, 99 no --> 16.8% YES

All three of these presbyteries took voice "no" votes on 01-A back in 2001-2, so there are no voting percentages from those years to compare for a vote shift. These three "no" votes suggest that the initial trend -- in which half of the previous voice-vote-no presbyteries flipped to "yes" -- was probably an outlier. The most likely pattern for the remaining prior-voice-vote-no presbyteries is that we'll see most or all of them come in with "no" votes.

The Shenango vote was originally reported elsewhere as 4 yes, 191 no, which is incorrect. My correspondence with the Stated Clerk got a corrected number of 4 yes, 101 no, and a process note that the vote was taken by asking people to stand up in the middle of presbytery meeting to have their "yes" or "no" vote counted. Presumably they did one set of people standing for "no" and then took a headcount, and then another set of people standing for "yes" and took a headcount. This is a nice example of the "public intimidation" voting tactic that I mention above. Not necessarily intentional on the part of the vote-takers, but probably effective at reducing the "yes" vote count regardless of intent.

I really want to call out here for thanksgiving the four people in Shenango who had the courage to stand up to be counted "yes" on 08-B this year. We don't know your names, we don't know who you are, but you're all heroes. It would have been so easy, in the midst of what was already known to be a lopsided presbytery no-on-08B vote, to simply stay seated, anonymous, and safe. If Peter can get away with it in Matthew 26:69-74, why not us, 2000 years later? But you didn't -- you ensured that it wasn't a 101-to-zero "no" vote, it was 101-4. The light shines in the darkness in Shenango! Four people potentially put their careers within Shenango Presbytery at risk by standing for equality this week. What will the rest of us do to stand for equality they way they did?


Indian Nations
2001-2 01-A: 52 yes, 52 no --> 50.0% YES
2009 08-B: 38 yes, 43 no --> 46.9% YES (-3.1%)

What should have been a no-to-yes flip this year turned into a 3% anti-equality shift due to the use of the "stifle the Spirit" tactic used during the presbytery meeting. Thanks for reminding us that you don't play fair, anti-08B people. Your use of this tactic suggests that you don't feel that your arguments can stand the sunlight of open discussion, as mandated by Presbyterian polity. If you think that the PCUSA should discriminate against gay people, at least have the guts to stand up in your presbytery meeting and say so. Cowards.

Missouri Union
2001-2 01-A: 34 yes, 46 no --> 42.5% YES
2009 08-B: 31 yes, 48 no --> 39.2% YES (-3.3%)

Bucking the trend of "if it's over 30% in the past, it will probably shift pro-LGBT" was Missouri Union, with a perhaps statistically insignificant 3% anti-equality shift. This presbytery was a long shot to flip from no to yes this year, but instead it's hovering around that 40% mark. It would have been nice to see a 5% to 7% pro-equality shift, so this one counts as "annoying".


Here we have a series of "no" votes, so you might be wondering why I list these in the "slightly positive" category. The reason, of course, is the voting percent shifts. In every case it was a pro-equality shift, even in some heavily anti-equality presbyteries that we might expect to trend anti-equality.

North Puget Sound
2001-2 01-A: 39 yes, 73 no --> 35% YES
2009 08-B: 42 yes, 69 no --> 38% YES (+3%)

Northeast Georgia
2001-2 01-A: 44 yes, 101 no --> 30.3% YES
2009 08-B: 49 yes, 89 no --> 35.5% YES (+5.2%)

2001-2 01-A: 12 yes, 40 no --> 23.1% YES
2009 08-B: 17 yes, 42 no --> 28.8% YES (+5.7%)

Tampa Bay
2001-2 01-A: 63 yes, 142 no --> 30.7% YES
2009 08-B: 71 yes, 105 no --> 40.3% YES (+9.6%)


Hudson River
2001-2 01-A: 103 yes, 28 no --> 79% YES
2009 08-B: 94 YES, 12 no --> 89% YES (+10%)

Another "safe yes vote" presbytery comes in with a 10% pro-equality shift, similar to what we've seen earlier in (for example) Chicago, Redwoods, and Sante Fe presbyteries. We haven't had any presbytery break the 90% support barrier yet, but Hudson River is certainly close.

2001-2 01-A: 68 yes, 35 no --> 66% YES
2009 08-B: 86 yes, 24 no --> 78% YES (+12%)

And still another >10% pro-equality shift from a "safe yes" presbytery. Nice job in Milwaukee bringing out the pro-equality vote.

Peace River
2001-2 01-A: 37 yes, 105 no --> 26.1% YES
2009 08-B: 63 yes, 82 no --> 43.4% YES (+17.4%)

The winner of the pro-equality shift award for the week is Peace river, which shifts from "strongly anti-equality" to "target swing presbytery if there needs to be a next time". There were both significant numerical increases in the yes vote, and decreases in the no vote -- the best scenario. And a 17% pro-equality shift is huge -- this is a good success story for the week.

South Alabama
2001-2 01-A: 18 yes, 49 no --> 26.9% YES
2009 08-B: 24 yes, 33 no --> 42.1% YES (+15.2%)

Nipping at the heels of Peace River for the pro-equality shift award this week is South Alabama. As with Peace River, here we see a presbytery with a voting history of mid-20% pro-equality suddenly jump into the low-40% range. +15% is an amazing jump in support, and as with Peace River moves this presbytery out of the category "strongly anti-equality" into the category of "target to flip pro-equality".