A few days before I started writing this article, I had the pleasure of watching my oldest daughter perform in her high school’s award-winning, original one-act play, “Deeds Not Words.” The student-written and produced play presents the story of Lady Constance Lytton, an English aristocrat who in the early 1900’s masqueraded as a working class woman in order to participate in the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. In fact, Lady Lytton joined the most militant group of suffragettes at that time, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The WSPU, founded by Emmeline Pankhurst (brilliantly portrayed by my daughter), very publically brought attention to the fact that all citizens had a right and obligation to vote in public elections. The play and ongoing displays of civic engagement all over the world this past year led me to reflect on the responsibility that I have to make sure that my voice is heard and counted in all organizations and groups in which I am a member.
You may be all too familiar with the fact that the US voter turnout for national elections ranks among the lowest of developed counties (61% of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election according to the US Census ). You may also know that on average, only one in five voters cast their ballots in local elections among larger US cities. However, the number of eligible voters for SBM who actually cast a ballot each year is also woefully low. In fact, over the past four years only 29% of SBM members eligible to vote did so.
While there are likely a multitude of reasons for low voter participation, the key factors are usually summarized as: (1) barriers to registering to vote, (2) limited information, and (3) apathy. Since the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) already makes voting as painless as possible (automatic registration as a dues paid member, electronic voting with a direct link to the ballot delivered in your email box, 24/7 voting over the course of one month), the Board has more recently decided to implement three approaches to increase member engagement in the voting process for the 2018 elections.
First, the candidates will be asked to record a series of one minute videos in response to specific questions aimed at helping the membership get to know the candidate and their positions on issues relevant to SBM. These videos will be distributed to the membership throughout the election period. It is the hope of the Board that these recordings along with the candidate personal statements will help voters with informed decision-making. Second, the final week of voting of the month-long voting period will be designated as “voting week.” The SBM office will encourage more members to vote using reminder emails. Finally, Special Interest Groups (SIGs) will be asked to encourage members to vote (though not specifically endorsing any specific candidate) on their listservs. If the Chair of the SIG is running in the election, that Chair will not be allowed to communicate through the listserv, but another member of the SIG leadership will take on this task. To further motivate SIG members to vote, an incentive will be offered whereby the SIG with the highest percentage of members voting receives a waived administration fee from SBM for a future pre-conference session. The percentage of voting SIG members will be included in all emails prompting members to vote. Given that key leadership roles of the Society are often decided by only a few votes, we are hoping that all of our members will recognize just how much their active participation can count in shaping the direction of the organization.
On behalf of the Board, we certainly hope that you will make sure that your voice is counted this upcoming election season.