The Unlocking SAA series will try to help new SAA members navigate all the things membership offers us. The authors of this post on SAA elections are current (Krystal Appiah) and former (Erin O’Meara and Eira Tansey) members of the Nominating Committee.
If you’re an SAA member, you will soon be inundated with emails reminding you to vote in this year’s election. What exactly is SAA’s annual election, what are the positions, and how are people nominated? This post aims to demystify what is often a confusing part of SAA’s governance structure.
What is the annual election?
Every year, SAA’s members elect the following positions:
1 Vice-president/President-elect (a 2-year term, the first year is served as vice-president, the second year as president)
1 Treasurer (a 3-year term, but the position only appears on the ballot every third year)
3 Council members (a 3-year term)
3 Nominating Committee members (a 1-year term)
Generally a ballot will have 2 candidates for Vice-president/President-elect, 2 candidates for Treasurer (when applicable), and around 6 candidates for Council, and 6 candidates for Nominating Committee.
What do these positions do?
Vice-president/President-elect: This is a two-year term. The position serves as Vice-president the first year, and assumes the Presidency at the beginning of the second year of their term. The President provides focus and direction to the Society during his/her term, and oversees business meetings (both of Council, and at the annual membership business meeting, which is held on the last day of the annual conference). Candidates for Vice-president/President-elect are often, but not always, former Council members. As Vice-president, s/he is responsible for making committee assignments to appointed committees. More information about duties can be found Section II of the Governance manual: (President) and (Vice-president).
Treasurer: This is a three-year term. The Treasurer oversees financial policy, auditing, and the annual budget for SAA. The Treasurer gives an annual report on the state of the organization’s finances at the annual membership business meeting. The Treasurer is also responsible for examining issues that affect the financial health of the organization, such as membership dues rates. They have a specific fiduciary responsibility, as part of the Executive Committee (consisting of the President, Vice-president, Treasurer, one third-year Council member, and the Executive Director) and Council, with leading the organization’s financial health.The Treasurer works with SAA’s Director of Finance and Administration to review the investment portfolio and strategy. Candidates should have some financial management experience. More information about duties can be found in Section II of the Governance manual: (Treasurer).
Council: The three council members join six other existing council members (3 of whom will be in their second year, 3 of whom will be in their third year). Council consists of the 9 council members, plus the Vice-president/President-elect and the Treasurer. Council is the main governing body of the Society of American Archivists, similar to a board of a non-profit. Those responsibilities include setting strategy, governance, and financial management policies, which in total assumes a general fiduciary responsibility over the well-being of the organization (to see more about general responsibilities of a board, see the Council of Nonprofits website).
A particular responsibility of all council members is to serve as liaison to SAA’s various sections, roundtables, committees, and working groups. Council usually meets in person 4 times a year (twice at SAA’s Chicago offices, and twice during the annual meeting). SAA’s Executive Director attends Council meetings as a non-voting member. Unless Council votes to go into executive (i.e. closed) session to discuss specific agenda items, all Council meetings are open to SAA membership. More information about the duties of Council can be found in Section IV of the Governance manual: (Council).
Nominating Committee: The three nominating committee members are joined by two council members in their third year of service. This five member group is responsible for identifying, recruiting, and selecting the candidates for the following year’s election. The chair of the nominating committee is the candidate who received the most votes. Nominating Committee generally meets twice during the annual meeting, and conducts a large amount of business over email and conference call in the months leading up to the annual meeting. More information about the duties of Nominating Committee can be found in the Governance manual: (Nominating).
The president, vice president/president-elect, treasurer, and council members attend all 4 yearly meetings of the SAA Council. The two meetings in winter and spring are funded by SAA and held at SAA’s office in Chicago. Elected officials are responsible for funding their own travel to the two council meetings held during the SAA Annual Meeting, as explained here.
All positions, except for nominating committee members, begin at the close of the August annual meeting. Nominating committee members begin their service almost immediately following election. In other words, if you are elected to Nominating Committee in the spring of 2016, by the August 2016 conference you will almost be done with completing the ballot for the 2017 election.
How is the ballot created?
Every year when the election slate is announced, SAA also asks voting members to nominate people for future elected positions. When the Nominating Committee convenes for the first time, the members receive all of these nominees, as well as information from SAA on previous slates and election results (so that the committee is aware of whether someone has previously run for or been elected to a particular office).
The Nominating Committee must then identify from this pool, as well as thinking of additional possible candidates not named, a shortlist of recruits to approach. This is the bulk of much of the work from the spring to summer. It’s important that the ballot represent a diverse roster of candidates. This means recruiting candidates from underrepresented groups, but it also includes institutional and geographic diversity. A plurality of SAA’s membership is almost certainly skewed towards archivists from academic institutions,* and it can be difficult to recruit candidates from government, non-profit, and corporate archives. In addition, it is important to ensure that candidates represent a variety of regions.
*As of 2012, 41% of institutional members were from academic institutions according to the membership survey [page 63]. Note that this figure does not represent individual members, who did not answer a question re: institutional affiliation. There are only 457 institutional members, and 5,705 individual members at the time of the 2012 survey, so it unclear how strong the 41% figure is across the entire membership.
How are the questions chosen?
Besides identifying and recruiting candidates, Nominating Committee writes questions that all candidates must answer as part of their candidacy. You can see the current questions and answers on the SAA election webpage. SAA staff provide Nominating Committee with questions used in previous elections in order to avoid duplication.
Questions are intended to allow the candidates to share more about their leadership philosophy and demonstrate how their past experience qualifies them for election. They also usually refer to aspects of the current SAA strategic plan and goals set forth in the plan.
How do I vote?
Review information about the candidates for the 2016 election.
Keep your eye on your email. You will receive an email with a link to a special ballot that allows you to vote in the election. The election usually runs for a month.
All full individual members, student members, and primary contacts of institutional members who are in good standing on February 29, 2016, will be eligible to vote in the 2016 Election.
What is voter turnout like?
Not as high as it should be! It’s often in the 20-30% range. Last year it was 25%. Please vote, and have all your friends vote, so we can keep growing the turnout!
Doesn’t SAA already have staff? Why do we elect positions?
SAA’s staff runs the day-to-day operations of the organization, such as accounting, keeping the website running, managing the publications and educational offerings, and handling member relations. The elected positions provide the overall strategic leadership of the Society and fiduciary responsibility, similar to a board for a non-profit.
Voting in SAA’s election is a critically important part of membership. Those running for election will determine the strategic future and priorities for the organization, and serve as a voice for the membership.
How can I run for election in the future?
You can self-suggest yourself (or someone else) when you vote in this year’s election! Then your name will go into the large list of names Nominating Committee receives when it convenes its early meetings later in the spring. SAA provides an anonymous, online submission form for nominations and self-nominations in late winter. Please include a few sentences about why the individual would make a great candidate and how s/he has served the profession rather than just stating, “So-and-so is awesome.”
You may also directly email the Nominating Committee once election results have been announced and they are preparing to meet. When the Nominating Committee met in 2014, a member of the profession emailed the committee directly with a very thoughtful self-nomination outlining her interest and ability to stand for Council election the following year. The Committee then followed up with her directly to finish the candidate recruitment process.
An online presence, such as a personal website or LinkedIn profile, can be helpful as the committee conducts research on potential candidates’ professional activities and service.