Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Some thoughts on the 2013 STRS Board election

April 9, 2013
Where's the fairness in this election?
1. This election needs to be scrubbed and done over again, CORRECTLY, whatever the cost. Most retirees will use the paper ballot, which says ".....completely fill in the box next to the candidates [PLURAL] of your choice", and farther down, "Select two candidates" [again, PLURAL]. Many retirees are going to interpret this to mean they are REQUIRED to vote for two candidates, which is wrong, wrong, wrong!!
The instructions are given as a COMMAND, not an option. Teachers spend their entire careers teaching children to follow directions, and pride themselves on setting the example. So when they are COMMANDED to "select two candidates", what else are they SUPPOSED to do? Which part of "SELECT TWO CANDIDATES" do the decision makers at STRS and VR Election Services NOT understand? If this ballot language is "clear" to them, then we as teachers have failed in teaching them good reading skills. Shame on US!!!
So what should it say on the ballot? Something like this: "You may vote for up to two candidates". No confusion whatsoever; the voter is given an option telling him/her that he/she is permitted to vote for as many as two candidates, but that it is not a requirement.
A remedial English lesson from a teacher: There are four types of sentences: Statement, Question, Exclamation and Command. Multiple choice question for STRS and VR Election Services: In which category does the sentence "Select two candidates" belong?
2. Not only is the language on the paper ballot flawed, but the online ballot is incorrectly worded as well. The first page of this ballot gives the exact same command: "SELECT TWO CANDIDATES". However, if the voter has the AUDACITY to select only one, then a second page pops up with a little caveat: "You may vote for up to two candidates". Heck, they might as well go on and tell the voter his/her pension will be immediately terminated if he/she DARES to vote for only one candidate! Scare tactics? Ignorance? Insensitivity? Who knows, but there it is! But wait! There's more! In their infinite wisdom, they even provided an OPTION for online voters (on the second page) to CHANGE their single vote -- to vote for TWO candidates instead!!! How NOBLE of them! But if you are a paper ballot voter, you don't get an option -- you vote for TWO candidates, OR ELSE!!
3. On April 8, Dennis Leone posed the following questions to STRS, which have not been answered as of this writing:
From: Dennis Leone [mailto:dennisleone@roadrunner.com]
Sent: Monday, April 08, 2013 7:42 PM
To: 'Treneff, Nick'; 'Nadine McIlwain'; 'McGreevy, James'; 'Stein, Bob' Cc: 'Board'; 'Nehf, Mike'; 'Neville, Bill'
Subject: Retirement Board Election
The basic questions that need to be answered are these:
1. Why does the official ballot language say “Select Two Candidates.”    The attached statement does not address this satisfactorily.    How did this happen?  The wording certainly does not appear to be accidental.
2. Did the STRS Board approve the ballot language in advance?
3. Does STRS not care that huge numbers of retirees assumed -- by the “Select Two Candidates” command -- that they needed to vote for 2 people in order for their ballot to be valid.  In other words, many made a second selection because they wanted their first selection to be valid.  Do you not believe this?
4. If placing an “X” in the box is okay, why did the instructions state that the entire box needed to filled in?
5. Why did the ballot instructions twice say “Check the name of the candidates of your choice” instead of “Check the name of the candidate(s) of your choice.”
6. The ballot instructions say “For election customer service, call toll-free 1-800-218-4026.”  When I called the board-hired company today, the supervisor who could answer the above questions refused to talk with me.  Why were retirees invited to call customer service, then not given any answers?  The person answering the phone there today promised me I would receive a return call from the supervisor TODAY.  I did not.
Damon Asbury admitted the truth in 2004 when he said publicly: “The STRS Board and the STRS Staff have lost touch with the membership.”  You have done the same in 2013 with an election that has many flaws………and I am not hearing one single admission on the part of the board or the staff that the process should have been better.    Have can you possibly conclude that it was okay for the official ballot language read “Select Two Candidates?”
Please answer my 6 questions above.
Dennis Leone
The text of the "attached statement" (from STRS, unsigned, sent out by Nick Treneff) to which Dr. Leone refers:
[Unsigned memo on STRS letterhead]
April 8, 2013
TO: Candidates for the 2013 State Teachers Retirement Board Election
We are writing in response to concerns raised by wording on the voting materials that were mailed to eligible voters last week. All ballots mailed out included the same set of clear instructions that voters may cast their vote for up to two candidates. Paper, phone and Internet ballots that only contain one vote will be accepted, as well as those ballots that contain votes for two candidates.
VR Election Services, the vendor hired by STRS Ohio to administer the election, has confirmed that paper ballots completed and returned by mail are scanned and then are visually inspected two times to ensure that votes are correctly tabulated. Ballots that show the clear intent of the voter, including those with boxes marked with an “X” or a check mark, will be counted.
STRS Ohio believes the voting materials provided to retirees for this election are clear and correct as presented and that retirees’ votes will be accurately recorded.
4. Why does the memo (above) say "All ballots mailed out included the same set of clear instructions that voters may cast their vote for up to two candidates"? This is absurd! Clear to whom? To those who do not understand what a COMMAND ("Select two candidates") is? I would suggest STRS and VRES consult some experts on the English language, and perhaps an attorney or two, on that one.
5. The very last statement in the memo is particularly interesting. "clear and correct as presented". Clear and correct to WHOM? Obviously they're "clear and correct" to STRS Ohio and VR Election Services, but not to all the voters. Nobody at STRS or VRES is voting, so they don't have the same interest we do in this election. They either don't realize or don't care about the outcome of this election (or perhaps there's another agenda somewhere which we haven't figured out yet), which, if allowed to go on, WILL affect the outcome.
6. Is this the first time STRS board election irregularities have been pointed out to STRS? Absolutely not. Jim Stoll, active teacher member, noticed some flaws four years ago and brought it to STRS' attention. He was told by Mike Nehf, Executive Director, that "I'll be following up on the questions you have presented." Fast forward to April 2013: Nothing's changed! That's leadership?
Jim Stoll to Mike Nehf, April 13, 2009
Subject: STRS Election Ballots
Dear Mr. Nehf,
I just spoke with Laura Ecklar, Director of Communications regarding the Election Ballots which were sent out via VR Election Services.
The conversation did not go well.  In my opinion Ms. Ecklar did not listen nor hear my concerns so I am addressing them with you directly.
It has been brought to my attention by both Active and Retired STRS members that the instructions on the Ballot clearly states and I quote, "Mark your selection by completely filling in the box with black ink or pencil located next to the name of the candidate you choose on the ballot below."
However, as I'm sure you are aware, as I'm told that correspondence was sent to both you and Ms. Ecklar, the envelope, which you put the ballot in, has a box with an simple "x" on the back, inside the box, which I'm told by STRS members was very confusing.
In my conversation with Ms. Ecklar she told me that "each ballot is counted by hand" so that ALL the ballots will be counted no matter how they are marked?"
A couple of things from my perspective:
1)  Is it legal to defy the specific election ballot instructions?
2)  It is confusing and I would just like confirmation from you as Exec. Director whether votes will be counted if there is an "X" in the box, a "check" in the box, any other marks that would be counted,  and/or if it must be completely filled in as the instructions specify.
Lastly, I find it unacceptable that this question or discrepancy was brought to your attention or Ms. Ecklar's attention, and there was no communication as to the resolution of these questions with the 6 candidates involved.   At least there was no communication with me.  I would have thought that STRS would have communicated with all the candidates and assured them that an issue had been brought to the attention of STRS regarding the Election and that it had been addressed and this is the resolution.
Looking forward to hearing from you directly on what the resolution to the above questions will be.
James A. Stoll
Director of Athletics
Sycamore H.S.
7400 Cornell Rd.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45242
Jim Stoll to Mike Nehf, April 14, 2009
Subject: RE: STRS Election Ballots
Dear Mr. Nehf,
For everyone's reference I have attached the voting instruction sheet as well as a scan of the envelope.
I hope everyone is in agreement that the instructions are clearly contradictory in the written statement that the box must be filled in COMPLETELY  and on the ballot itself instructions show  "RIGHT" (showing box filled in completely)  and "WRONG" (with a check, "x" , and dot, in the box.  Yet, Ms Ecklar has advised that any mark will be counted?
Additionally, you'll see the outside envelope also has a X in boxes on the outside.
VR Elections Services has in my opinion done an extremely poor job here.  One would have thought after recent federal election disputes that this type of thing would have been eliminated.
My goal here is that all six candidates receive fair consideration of votes cast.  Clarification to those candidates and members is certainly in order.
James A. Stoll
Mike Nehf to Jim Stoll, April 14, 2009
Subject: RE: STRS Election Ballots
Dear Mr. Stoll,
Thank you for your e-mail communication.  I’ll be following up on the questions you have presented.
Mike Nehf
To quote Jim Stoll regarding the 2013 election, ".....this issue was brought up four years ago in 2009 election and Mr. Nehf assured he'd follow up on these election concerns. Poor leadership .... Nothing has changed and unfairness abounds.  Can you spell incompetence!!!"
For the record, many retirees are still concerned about the necessity of filling in the little box(es) in front of the candidate's/candidates' name(s). A very small thing to VR Elections Services, but a hassle to many voters. A box is a perfect design for an "X", but to fill it in, one is likely to end up with a lot of messy back-and-forth scratch marks. If VRES wants it filled in, why don't they provide little circles or ovals, which are MUCH easier to fill in? A small thing, using boxes, perhaps, but a sure sign of stupidity on somebody's part! Out of lifelong experience, many voters will see the boxes and automatically use an "X". Or probably TWO "X's" since they fear their ballot will be invalidated if they do not "SELECT TWO CANDIDATES". Same thing filling in the boxes: "Gee, I'd better vote for TWO candidates, even though I was planning to vote for only ONE, because I don't want my ballot to be tossed out for not following directions!!"
Florida, move over with your hanging chads. Here comes STRS Ohio!!
Kathie Bracy, Retiree
STRS Ohio member since 1965
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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