Lexington, Ky.: The Commission on the General Conference voted this week to implement new registration and credentialing procedures for General Conference delegates to safeguard against the possibility of unauthorized voting.
The Commission made the decision based on the results of an independent investigation into allegations of voting improprieties at the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference. A task force was convened to oversee the investigation, which was carried out by an independent auditing firm, LBMC, with the assistance of an independent outside legal firm. The task force’s report and recommendations were presented to the Commission during its August 7-9 meeting in Lexington, Ky.
The investigation found credible objective evidence that four ineligible persons cast votes using the credentials of delegates who were not present. Multiple pieces of evidence corroborated the conclusion that these four individuals improperly cast votes.
“The Commission on the General Conference is committed to protecting the integrity of the legislative process,” said Kim Simpson, Commission chair. “We’ve carefully and prayerfully reviewed the results of the investigation undertaken with oversight from the task force, and we are taking the necessary steps to strengthen our procedures and restore confidence in the process.”
Those steps include ensuring the use of consistent names by requiring they match government-issued identification and issuing credentials that include photos. In all, 19 changes were identified that could make the process more secure.
“We’ve also looked at the implications of the invalid votes and how best to address those,” said Simpson.
According to rule 43 of the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order for the General Conference, which incorporates Robert’s Rules of Order as the supplemental authority, including Section 45 thereof, any possibility that invalid ballots might affect the result of a vote renders the entire ballot null and void.
Four votes could not have affected the outcome of the vote on the Traditional Plan, which passed 438-384. Likewise, the disaffiliation petition passed 420-390, too large a margin to have been impacted. However, the vote to substitute the minority report for the legislative committee report, which is the action that enabled plenary voting on the disaffiliation petition, passed by only two votes.
In accordance with the policy of the General Conference that votes are to remain confidential, the investigation did not seek to find out whether the votes cast were in favor of substituting the minority report or against it. Having found sufficient evidence that there were invalid votes that potentially affected the result of the vote, the Commission determined that the vote to substitute the minority report is void. They also made a decision to ask the Council of Bishops to consider referring the matter to the Judicial Council to examine the potential impact on the disaffiliation vote.
The Judicial Council has the authority to determine the legality of any action taken by the General Conference, but the Commission on the General Conference may not make such a request on its own pursuant to Paragraph 56, Section 4, of the Discipline–thus the referral to the Council of Bishops.
In conducting the investigation, LBMC looked at available information for every authorized delegate. It reviewed extensive documentation including voting lists, attendance lists, attendance forms, visa information, delegate cards and travel reimbursement forms; conducted interviews with staff personnel and others; and reviewed all communications and documents it received containing allegations relating to the General Conference. The objective evidence from that review did not support the conclusion that there were other improper votes.
During the investigation, however, broader unsubstantiated claims arose concerning potential irregularities regarding the manner in which delegates were selected or instructed to vote. Following a recommendation from the task force, the Commission voted to refer these allegations to the Council of Bishops for further review and possible action.
The Commission also voted to accept the task force’s recommendation that the Commission on the General Conference initiate conversations with the Council of Bishops and the General Council on Finance and Administration on membership statistics, the qualifications required for professing membership and the manner in which professing membership is recorded.
The Commission on the General Conference adopted the recommendations of the task force, which will be made available early next week
About General Conference
General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The assembly meets at the beginning of each quadrennium to consider revisions to church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs for the next four years. General Conference 2020 will take place May 5-15, 2020, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minn.
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