Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vote wrapup, April 20-28

It's been slightly over a week since I wrote the last 08-B vote update, and as it turns out two more votes have just come in tonight (Tuesday 4/28), so I'll include those here.

This update covers all of the 08-B votes that I know of that took place from April 20 through April 28.


Yes votes: 6
No votes: 4
No-to-yes flips: 4 out of a target 5
Previous "yes" presbyteries held at "yes": 2 out of 4

Presbyteries shifting pro-equality: 5
Presbyteries shifting anti-equality: 5

Nasty surprises: 2 (San Francisco, Sierra Blanca)
Amazingly positive surprises (unexpected flips): 0
Annoyances: 2

Bruce's rating for the week: "Worst week so far"

This week started out strong but then went downhill, with a double break in our perfect record of all previous "yes" presbytery votes held at "yes". As a result I've finally had to expand the categories for this week's wrapup to include a "BAD NEWS" category, covering votes which are just plain bad news, much more than "annoying".

We had our first two, and hopefully last two, yes-to-no flips this week, and those plus the other "no" votes were enough to push the total presbytery "no" vote count above the 87-presbytery-vote ceiling needed to defeat 08-B. So if you were just here to watch for whether 08-B would pass or fail, you now know that result. I've telegraphed that likely result in several of my previous weekly updates, so it should come as no huge surprise, however please do be aware that a lot of equality supporters are in pain this week over the technical loss, so give them some extra hugs and then point out that we're still flipping presbyteries from "no" to "yes". More on the strong string of no-to-yes flips later. More Light Presbyterians also has an official statement up on its web site at www.mlp.org. Some of the correspondence I've seen from MLP board and staff members has made it clear that there's a strong commitment to run this race through to the finish, i.e. MLP will continue to work for every vote in every presbytery. That's great news, because the work of shifting hearts and minds for equality doesn't stop just because we reached a semi-arbitrary presbytery vote count.

Had the past 9 days gone "reasonably", or at least resembling the voting patterns so far, we would have ended up with 9 yes votes and 1 no vote, with Northern Plains being the only no vote. Instead, we were unable to flip Boise from its previous 50%-50% tie (more commentary on this later also), and we had the nasty pair of yes-to-no flips, one of which simply should never have happened (that would be you, San Francisco).

This set of 10 presbyteries also gets an overall "annoying" for the tie of 5 presbyteries shifting pro-equality and 5 shifting anti-equality. This 50-50 split is a significant departure from the overall ratio of 3-to-1 pro-versus-anti-equality shifts. Had I written this wrapup on Sunday like I usually do, the numbers would have been even worse, with 5 anti-equality shifts and only 3 pro-equality shifts.

So with that intro out of the way, here are the vote percentage breakdowns and some commentary.


San Francisco - YES-TO-NO FLIP
2001-2 01-A: 216 yes, 186 no --> 53.7% YES
2009 08-B: 167 yes, 177 no --> 48.5% YES (-5.2%)

This yes-to-no flip now means that the phrase "remember San Francisco!" will be used as an admonition for at least the next 5 to 10 years within the PCUSA LGBT equality movement. There's already been a commitment made to do a post-08B-vote postmortem discussion about "what happened in San Francisco", though a look at the raw vote counts suggests to me that this was heavily a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) problem for equality supporters. The anti-equality faction didn't increase their own numbers -- they decreased. But look at the downward plunge in the "yes" votes from 2001-2 to 2009: 216 "yes" votes dropped down to 167 votes, nearly a 25% drop. This is what can happen if you get sloppy or complacent.

Initial conversation has revealed that a number of equality supporters decided to skip the presbytery meeting and attend an out-of-town conference instead. I hope that San Francisco's experience now cures us of the belief that it's EVER a good idea to skip the presbytery meeting when a vote on LGBT equality is on the docket. I don't care if you've got a handwritten invitation to the second coming of Elijah -- you send back your RSVP to Elijah and say "so sorry I can't make it -- I've got to attend the presbytery meeting as part of my RESPONSIBILITY to vote for full equality."

Sierra Blanca - YES-TO-NO FLIP
2001-2 01-A: 18 yes, 17 no --> 51.4% YES
2009 08-B: 23 yes, 30 no --> 43.4% YES (-8.0%)

Here's our second unfortunate yes-to-no flip, however it's not quite as dismaying as San Francisco. With vote counts down in the teens for the 2001-2 vote, it's difficult to predict in advance which way this presbytery might fall. The 2009 vote counts show an increase in both the "yes" and "no" votes at the presbytery, suggesting that both pro-equality and anti-equality advocates ran get-out-the-vote efforts, or at least that there was "heightened interest" in attending to express an opinion via a vote. Total presbytery attendance for the 2009 vote increased a whopping 50% compared to 2001-2. It's certainly possible that Sierra Blanca's "natural" level of pro-equality support is in the mid-40s percentage-wise, and that the 2001-2 one-vote-win was simply an outlier. Regardless, this isn't the kind of result that we want to see, with an 8% anti-LGBT vote shift that turns a previous "yes" into a "no".


2001-2 01-A: 20 yes, 20 no --> 50% YES
2009 08-B: 25 yes, 34 no --> 42.4% YES (-7.6%)

Boise is extremely similar to Sierra Blanca: small 2001-2 vote counts with a vote percentage hovering around a 50-50 split; a nearly 50% increase in presbytery attendance/voting in 2009 compared to 2001-2; and roughly an 8% negative-equality vote shift in 2009. The only reason why I don't list Boise in the "bad news" section above is that it was previously a "no" vote on 01-A in 2001-2 (remember that tie votes count as "no"), so Boise didn't end up being a yes-to-no flip. It was, however, one that looked like an easy pickup opportunity this year, but that wasn't what happened. Instead it looks again as if both the pro-equality and anti-equality groups did GOTV, and the anti-equality side was able to increase its vote count more than the pro-equality side.

Northern Plains
2001-2 01-A: 35 yes, 51 no --> 40.7% YES
2009 08-B: 21 yes, 33 no --> 38.9% YES (-1.8%)

Northern Plains was a long shot to flip no-to-yes, and we didn't flip it. The annoying part is the 1.8% anti-equality vote shift, although vote-shift percentages so small can't really be taken as a sign of anything other than statistical noise. The vote totals in 2009 are interesting in that they don't show the same trends as Boise and Sierra Blanca -- instead, here both sides show significantly reduced vote totals when compared to 2001-2 voting.


de Cristo
2001-2 01-A: 70 yes, 55 no --> 56% YES
2009 08-B: 59 yes, 48 no --> 55% YES (-1%)

de Cristo was a "hold" presbytery which we did hold at pro-equality. Here I rate it as "neutral" since it's hard to tell what to do with that 1% anti-equality vote shift. That's within statistical noise, so I don't count de Cristo as "annoying", but without some sort of pro-equality shift it's not realistic for me to categorize this as "slightly positive".


National Capital
2001-2 01-A: 220 yes, 116 no --> 65.5% YES
2009 08-B: 222 yes, 102 no --> 68.5% YES (+3.0%)

National Capital is more representative of the vote-shift trend that we want to see, coming in with a modest pro-equality shift and increasing the total "yes" vote in 2009 compared to 2001-2, while the anti-equality side lost votes.


This "successes" section only had two presbyteries in it until tonight (April 28), so maybe it's good that I procrastinated by two days. All of these are no-to-yes flips, two of them coming in AFTER the known defeat of 08-B when it reached 87 "no" presbytery votes. Three out of the four below are strong successes, with double-digit pro-equality vote shifts.

2001-2 01-A: 160 yes, 187 no --> 46% YES
2009 08-B: 156 yes, 149 no --> 51% YES (+5%)

Salem ekes out a 5% pro-equality vote shift and a no-to-yes flip, holding the 2009 "yes" vote count at almost the level of 2001 while the anti-equality vote count declined significantly. Nice job in Salem -- now the challenge is to reinforce that 51% support for equality and get it into the high 50's.

Wabash Valley
2001-2 01-A: 83 yes, 102 no --> 44.9% YES
2009 08-B: 78 yes, 60 no --> 56.5% YES (+11.7%)

Here's the first in a string of pro-equality vote shifts in the 12% range, all of which gave us no-to-yes flips. As with Salem, here in Wabash Valley we see that equality supporters held the 2009 "yes" vote count close to 2001-2 levels, while the "no" vote count dropped significantly.

2001-2 01-A: 102 yes, 111 no --> 47.9% YES
2009 08-B: 141 yes, 92 no --> 60.5% YES (+12.6%)

Look at the total "yes" vote count in 2001-2 and then compare it to 2009 -- yes, that's nearly a 40% INCREASE in the total number of "yes" votes, while the anti-equality vote dropped. We should have the More Light supporters in Detroit presbytery teach us their get-out-the-vote techniques. Excellent job on the GOTV, Detroit folks.

2001-2 01-A: 50 yes, 62 no --> 44.6% YES
2009 08-B: 60 yes, 46 no --> 56.6% YES (+12.0%)

Similar to Detroit and almost as spectacular on the numbers, equality supporters in LeHigh push UP the total "yes" vote count by 20% (10 votes total) compared to 2001-2 while again, the anti-equality vote drops down. We end up with a 12% pro-equality shift, which is no easy task anywhere. In this case it was more than enough to make LeHigh another no-to-yes flip.

Many thanks to equality supporters particularly in Detroit and LeHigh presbyteries, who attended the presbytery meeting and voted even after the weekend announcement that 08-B has been defeated. Every vote matters, every possible presbytery no-to-yes flip is a big deal, and there are still several presbyteries yet to vote that could flip from "no" to "yes".

Sunday, April 19, 2009

08-B wrapup, March 30 - April 19

I took a few weeks away from doing these updates, since there weren't any votes scheduled through the Easter season, but now the 08-B votes are starting to happen again. Here's a recap of the few votes that happened in the late March to early April time window, plus a few more that happened recently.

This update covers all 08-B votes that I know of that took place from March 30 through April 19.

Yes votes: 3
No votes: 3
No-to-yes flips: 0 out of a target 1 (if we count South Louisiana as a target flip)
Previous "yes" presbyteries held at "yes": 3 out of 3

Presbyteries shifting pro-equality: 1
Presbyteries shifting anti-equality 3

Nasty surprises: 0
Amazingly positive surprises (unexpected flips): 0
Annoyances: 3

Bruce's rating for the past three weeks of votes: "No surprises"

Fundamentally, the 6 votes of the past 3 weeks weren't very exciting: 3 previous "no" votes and 3 previous "yes" votes all voted the same way on 08-B this time around. The two areas of interest were San Jose Presbytery, which is traditionally hotly contested, and South Louisiana, where we had a long-shot opportunity to flip the presbytery from a previous "no" vote to a "yes" this year.

Several presbyteries fall into the "annoying" category this time around due to slight anti-LGBT percentage shifts, all of them at the 2-3% level. In Alaska and Long Island presbyteries this type of "probable statistical noise" doesn't matter quite as much, however in San Jose it does, since the votes in San Jose on LGBT equality overtures are traditionally fairly close. More on San Jose below, under its vote breakdown.

You'll notice that I have no "slightly positive" or "successes" sections below this time, since these 6 votes really don't fall into those categories. If we had picked up a pro-LGBT percentage shift in Alaska or San Jose then I'd count those as "slightly positive", but since we had some backsliding, they get listed as "annoying".


2001-2 01-A: 15 yes, 24 no --> 38.5% YES
2009 08-B: 12 yes, 21 no --> 36.4% YES (-2.1%)

With total vote counts this low, it's hard to derive much meaning from a 3-vote decline for both the "yes" and "no" votes when we compare 2001-2 to 2009. Still, I'd prefer to see a pro-LGBT shift into the low-40% level support rather than the 2% decline down to 36% that we actually see.

Long Island
2001-2 01-A: 87 yes, 28 no --> 75.7% YES
2009 08-B: 78 yes, 29 no --> 72.9% YES (-2.8%)

Long Island isn't in any danger of flipping its vote to "no", so I'm not particularly bothered by a 2.8% anti-LGBT shift, however given that the "no" voters were able to increase their total by 1 vote when compared to the 2001-2 voting, it would have been nice to see the "yes" vote count for 2009 come in at the 2001-2 levels of 87 votes.

San Jose
2001-2 01-A: 85 yes, 75 no --> 53.1% YES
2009 08-B: 84 yes, 81 no --> 50.9% YES (-2.2%)

I should note here that although I'm in San Jose presbytery, I didn't do the get-out-the-vote (GOTV) work for this presbytery -- that was handled here by a very dedicated team of LGBT equality supporters who did a large amount of phone calling and people-tracking well in advance of the presbytery meeting. I won't list names here since I don't know who wants to be mentioned and who would rather stay anonymous, however if you were at the More Light dinner at General Assembly in 2008, it's safe to say that you've likely met several members of this team. And it's good that they worked hard on the 08-B GOTV, since the anti-equality forces pulled out all the stops and increased their "no" vote count to 81 from the previous level of 75.

San Jose presbytery is both an interesting and annoying exercise in swing-presbytery demographics. A lot of people look up the city on the map and assume, based on San Jose's rough proximity to San Francisco, that San Jose presbytery must be a regular shoo-in for "yes" votes on equality. The reality, of course, is that the presbytery extends WAY down south beyond San Jose, presumably adding plenty of what we might call "non-San Francisco demographic territory" along the way.

This year there were a few interesting wrinkles in the San Jose Presbytery 08-B voting process. As is often the case, the presbytery scheduled a "let's dialogue about this overture" event, which in past years was often held as part of the presbytery meeting at which the vote was taking. This year, however, the dialogue event was held a month prior to the vote, as a single-subject optional Saturday event which was not a presbytery meeting. The result was the usual for these sorts of non-mandatory events: 08-B supporters showed up in droves ready to dialogue and advocate for equality, and the anti-LGBT presbyterians stayed home. Perhaps others might like to take this as an object lesson in how NOT to conduct a discussion about LGBT equality issues. There's been a lot of naive conflict-resolution fluff in the PCUSA over at least the past 10 years which has fabricated a narrative something like this: "the problem is that LIBERALS and CONSERVATIVES disagree with each other, and all we need to do to resolve this problem is get them to SIT DOWN and TALK to each other. We SENSIBLE MODERATES, who are the ones who actually have our wits about us, will help them to REASON out their differences and reach a COMPROMISE, thus solving the problem." This false narrative ignores the real source of the problem, which is the prejudice (and prejudice, by definition, is not grounded in reason) that needs to be exorcised from the denomination. It ignores the fact that you don't compromise on core principles (q.v. Gandhi), and human equality is a Jesus-grounded core principle. The narrative also ignores the fact that the anti-LGBT faction of the denomination has a long tradition of filing church lawsuits against any LGBT person who dares to come out at these sorts of meetings. We might refer to that as the "bring an assault rifle to the negotiating table" school of regressive politics.

The other "interesting" development with the San Jose presbytery voting was the equalization rule applied to the Yes and No speakers prior to the vote at the meeting. The original speaking structure, agreed to in advance, was to cap the number of "yes" and the number of "no" speakers at 12 each, for a total of 24 speakers maximum. However at the actual presbytery meeting, the anti-08B side couldn't muster 12 speakers -- they could only come up with about 8 people willing to speak against. (I don't have this precise number, however the point of this anecdote holds regardless.) The yes-on-08B team was then forced to REDUCE its speaker count down from 12 speakers to a smaller matching number, in the interests of "fairness". Frankly, that process doesn't meet with my concept of "fair" -- it seems to me that if one side can't get its act together enough to assemble 12 speakers, then they should speak with the people they've got, and the team that did have its act together gets to play with a full team of 12.

So at the end of the day, to get back to the actual vote count, we end up with a 2% anti-LGBT shift, taking us down to a nailbiter 84 yes, 81 no vote. We any luck, we in the More Light contingent can draw the line in the sand at this point, since another 2% anti-LGBT shift will of course flip the presbytery into the "no" category. Such a yes-to-no flip would fundamentally be pretty stupid, since despite recent anti-marriage ballot measures in California, the state as a whole is shifting pro-LGBT.


Atlantic Korean-American
2001-2 01-A: 0 yes, 32 no --> 0% YES
2009 08-B: 0 yes, 18 no --> 0% YES

Here's one of the several non-geographic Korean presbyteries doing its thing. These presbyteries pretty much always vote close to 100% anti-equality, so this vote is no surprise, though it is somewhat interesting to see that this was apparently a presbytery meeting with only 18 attendees.

Northern NY
2001-2 01-A: 42 yes, 19 no --> 68.9% YES
2009 08-B: Voice vote "yes"

Northern New York gets a "neutral" due to the voice vote, which means that we can't do any statistical comparisons. This is a "safe yes" presbytery, so there are no concerns here.

South Louisiana
2001-2 01-A: 51 yes, 71 no --> 41.8% YES
2009 08-B: 42 yes, 55 no --> 43.3% YES (+1.5%)

South Louisiana is an interesting problem in categorization. There was a team of people working very hard to try to get this presbytery to flip to "yes", so they might call this one "annoying" or "painful". On the other hand, the vote did shift +1.5% pro-LGBT, so maybe I should list it as "slightly positive". Here I decided to split the difference and let these two lines of thinking cancel each other out, so I've listed South Louisiana as "neutral". Every percentage point in the pro-LGBT direction moves us that much closer to flipping the presbytery to pro-equality in the future.