In an effort to increase participation, accessibility, and informed decision-making, voting will be dramatically different at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2022 General Assembly. General Assembly (GA) is the annual business meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), where delegates from member congregations vote on resolutions, bylaw changes, elections, and other business.
After two years of virtual-only General Assembly due to the pandemic, GA 2022 will be a fully multiplatform event. Delegates may choose to attend online or in person in Portland, Oregon, June 22–26. This year’s theme is “Meet the Moment: Reimagining Radical Faith Community.”
The UUA is committed to making sure the multiplatform GA, including the voting process, is an equitable experience for everyone. All delegates—onsite or online—will vote via electronic ballot on their phones or computers, or at special voting terminals at the Oregon Convention Center, where the onsite GA will be held. Voting will take place over hours instead of minutes, so delegates have time to confer with the congregations they represent before casting their votes.
“I am excited about the new voting process at GA. I have long hoped for better, more inclusive and accessible ways of doing business,” said Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA president. “I also know we will be learning through this, and more changes might emerge from these efforts.”
While acknowledging that change can be difficult, she added that she expects “this new way of voting by ballot, and the presentation and engagement on business issues before GA, will create more accessibility for all delegates to understand and participate in the business before the General Assembly.”
Many business-related events that traditionally happened during GA will instead take place before GA, including discussions of business resolutions and proposed amendments. The idea is to give delegates more time to consider the issues and to communicate with their congregations instead of having to discuss the resolutions during GA and voting on the spot.
Also new this year, delegate credentialing will have a separate registration from the full GA program. This will allow those who want to represent their congregations as delegates and participate only in General Sessions to register as online business-only attendees and pay a donation instead of the full registration fee.
“I’m really excited about it, to be able to have deeper time for reflection where we’re not going right to a vote,” said the Rev. Meg Riley, co-moderator of the UUA along with Charles Du Mond.
“By spacing it out, delegates have more time to engage with their congregations,” instead of the person having to vote on the spot without necessarily knowing how their congregation feels, added Du Mond.
In the past, the Board of Trustees published the final business agenda before GA, outlining many hours of business that were packed into the four or so days of GA, including review and adoption of the rules of procedure, discussion of proposed amendments at mini-assemblies, discussion of agenda items, and live voting.
This year, the process has been spread out starting months before GA. There are two business resolutions—one on rewriting the UUA bylaws, the other on changing the GA Planning Committee.
The board issued drafts of the business agenda in April, earlier than ever, and has asked for input through a new online forum in which all members of UUA congregations could participate, not just credentialed delegates. The Commission on Social Witness (CSW) invited to propose Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs). Here is the final agenda approved by the board on May 25.
On May 25, the board will publish the final agenda for GA and the rules of procedure, and the delegate platform will open. In May and June, delegates who have been credentialed through an online process can propose amendments to the business resolutions.
On June 11, mini-assemblies will be held for delegates to discuss and vote on any proposed amendments to the business resolutions and to propose changes to the rules of procedure.
Amendments that get 33 percent support at the mini-assembly will be voted on at GA. On June 17, the final text of agenda items and AIWs will be published.
“We want to move from debating the process to discussing the ideas,” said Du Mond, “so that by the time we get to the mini-assembly there may be a few well-thought-out amendments that can be discussed there,” and those that make the ballot will be voted on the Thursday of GA, which is “amendment day.”
During GA, delegates will vote by ballot on rules of procedure, amendments, and all business items. On the first day of GA, they will vote on revised rules of procedure proposed by the board. Discussion on this and other business items will be led during general session at GA by trustees on the Moderation Team, known as the Mod Squad.
Online and onsite delegates will share a similar process for speaking pro or con on any proposal. To create a parallel experience, all pro and con speakers will be broadcast online and in the general session hall. Those participating onsite will do this from a desk in the hall. The pro and con points of view will alternate. There will be one ballot per day, with voting spread out over hours.
“We want to spread things out, give delegates an opportunity to consult with their congregations, and remove some of the pressure that comes with trying to figure it out in real time,” said Carey McDonald, the UUA’s executive vice president. “Our theme for GA is ‘Reimagining Radical Faith Community,’ and we’re putting that into practice by redesigning GA to focus on our values, connection, and issues at hand rather than a confusing process.”
There will not be a procedural mic during GA, and votes to table, refer, or end discussion (call the question) will not be allowed. There will be an information desk where delegates can get answers from the Moderation Team and parliamentarian to questions or concerns about procedure. Changes to the rules of procedure, which can only be proposed at the pre-GA mini-assembly, require a 4/5 majority to pass.
This new approach—which the UUA is calling “Reimagining Business Together”—reflects a move away from a focus on parliamentary process and Robert’s Rules of Order to the actual issues.
The Commission on Institutional Change, in its report, Widening the Circle of Concern, recommended that the board consider a wide array of changes to make GA and UUA governance more inclusive and accessible.
“It’s giving people an opportunity to participate in discussion no matter where they are located, and to move away from the complexity of parliamentary procedure,” McDonald said. It is hoped that these changes will expand participation in voting and the democratic process, which is one of the UUA’s Seven Principles he added.
All delegates will have access to the delegate platform from anywhere—including at a voting site in the convention center—where they can review the business agenda and access their ballots and links to join general session business discussions via Zoom.
Although GA has had offsite delegates for about a dozen years, the experience did not always feel equitable for them, as there were often delays as they tried to vote electronically while the in-person votes took place onsite, McDonald explained.
What Delegates Will Be Voting On
Delegates will be voting on two business resolutions this year. The first asks the GA to endorse the board’s plan to do a comprehensive rewrite of the UUA bylaws, in order to meet the significant challenges of today without being encumbered by overly complicated and inefficient governance and bylaws written for a different era.
The Commission on Institutional Change, in its report, identified aspects of the UUA’s governance structure that prevents it from living faithfully into a liberatory expression of Unitarian Universalism.
“There’s a long history of making small incremental changes to the bylaws, and this board and previous boards have thought for some time there is a need for a rewrite,” including to make language clearer and remove duplication, said Du Mond. The business resolution seeks to get the GA to endorse the idea and rationale behind the bylaw rewrite.
The second business resolution looks to re-envision the role of the GA Planning Committee (GAPC). Riley and Du Mond praised the outstanding work of the volunteer GAPC over the years.
However, as GA itself transitions to fully multiplatform, and as the UUA’s General Assembly and Conference Services staff group takes on more and more tasks, it makes sense to reimagine the GAPC’s makeup and what it does.
Additionally, the Board has added one more item to the business agenda, a rules clarification related to Election Campaign Practice Committee (ECPC). Rule G-9.13.10 currently references a non-existent section as the standard which the ECPC uses for determining “serious violations” that can lead to a candidate’s removal from the ballot. The rules clarification will correct that typo. As a rules clarification, it will be considered as a separate item from the two business resolutions.
There are also two contested Board of Trustees races this year. Two candidates are running by petition against candidates or incumbents who were nominated by the Nominating Committee.
The Rev. Beverly Seese of the UU Fellowship of Kokomo, Indiana, is running for board slot number 11, for which the Rev. Justine Sullivan was nominated by the Nominating Committee.
Rebecca Mattis, a member of the UU Church in Rutland, Vermont, is running for board slot number 7, for which current trustee the Rev. Suzanne Fast was nominated by the Nominating Committee.
Click here for more information on UUA elections.