Association for Union Democracy

Voting rules: do I have to vote for all three?

A: Incumbents have long used this trick to retain power. To take your example, say there is an election for three trustees. The ballot lists ten candidates. Say one of them is a reformer and the rest are buddies of the Business Manager. The top three vote-getters will be elected. The ballot requires you to vote for three positions, even if you only support one of the people running. If you don’t vote for all three, your ballot is voided. If you vote for three, the votes you cast for the two people you don’t want, may end up helping them beat your candidate.

As a matter of policy, unions should not require members to vote for every position. Members should be allowed to vote for the people they want, period. Is it legal for unions to require members to vote for the total number of positions? That depends…

The first thing to do is check the union constitution and bylaws (local and national). If the union constitution requires members to vote for all the positions, and says that improperly marked ballots will be ruled invalid or “spoiled,” then you had better follow the rules to make sure your ballot is counted. Unfortunately, in one case, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) decided that it was permissible for a union to require members to vote for the total number of positions. If you run into this problem, please contact us. We are interested in seeing this type of election rule challenged.

If the union constitution is silent on the issue, it is probably up to the election committee, or whatever body runs the election, to establish the election rules. Again, follow the rules, so your vote is counted. You can make this issue part of an election complaint; it might end up having to be decided in court, if the union rules against you. Again, call us for advice.

(Robert’s Rules of Order Revised (Quill, 1971) does say that a member “cannot be compelled to vote,” (VIII:46) but in this case it is not clear that members are being forced to vote, just forced to vote by a certain method.)

Your question points to a basic organizing problem, though. The best way to handle this problem is to organize broadly enough so you have a full slate of candidates. That way you can not be boxed in even by this bad rule. You may not be able to run a full slate the first time out, but it should be a strategic objective from the start.

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