Internal Vote Fraud Leads Secular Party to a Likely Collapse

It was mid-July 2013 and an internal push by members of the National Atheist Party had seemingly been victorious, resulting in a party name change to Secular Party of America.  An affirmative vote of 75% was needed to change the name.  The name change campaign was led by a small yet effective group inside the organization, resulting in the creation of a new logo, Facebook page, and video ad supporting the change to the more inclusive party title.  What was missing however, was oversight.  The voting took place through SurveyMonkey, where supporters of the change, including those on the Executive Board, had access to voting results as they came in, rather than after voting was completed.  Noticing that the necessary affirmative vote percentage was slightly below the required 75%, the Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing, Bernard “Flash” Kellish, began scrambling, devising a plan to stuff the ballot box to pass the measure.

According to A-News Reports, Flash enlisted Christopher Thomas, the party’s art director, to use fake email addresses to log into SurveyMonkey and push the vote over 75%.

It’s been almost two months since the vote “passed.”  Over the past couple days, the story has broken and is spreading, and those involved have been placed on leave and/or stepped down.  The party’s Executive Board is nearly a ghost town, it has no president, and arguably the most active leader of the party was at the center of this scandal.  This is an organization with a stagnant membership who attempted a name change to promote inclusion and gain non-atheist members.  Instead, in a dishonest effort to save the party, more harm has been done.  Members and position holders are abandoning the party faster than leaders can apologize (Flash has not made a public statement as of this article).  Members of the Executive Board are meeting behind closed doors in a rescue attempt that seems futile.  The ship is sinking fast.  But the question no one has asked is, did it need to?  Did Flash fix a vote that didn’t need to be fixed?

As a member of the party’s blogging team, I was in daily contact with Flash around the time of the name change vote.  I authored the script for, and appeared in, the name change campaign video and wrote an article announcing the name change when the results came in.  When the original results were shared with my team, I corrected Flash regarding the percentages.  He told us that 75% voted “Yes” but quoted 2 other groups, “No” and “Abstain”.  The three groups added up to 100%, but they shouldn’t have.  The abstentions should have been subtracted out of the vote total altogether.  Instead, they were included as a result, effectively making them “No” votes, since they were not “Yes” votes.  So the affirmative percentage should have been calculated as:  Yes / (Yes + No).  Instead, Flash (and SurveyMonkey) were calculating it as:  Yes / (Yes + No + Abstain).  From what I recall, there was a significant amount of abstentions, which would bring the Yes percentage down until it can be calculated correctly, something Flash did not do, and then reacted in haste.

So if Flash and other EB members calculated the totals correctly, there may not have been a need to show their true colors so early in the game.  Now, not only can those guilty in this scandal wallow in their own dishonesty, but they can also feel dumb for not being able to calculate voting results correctly, ultimately changing the fate of their party.

The jury is out as to what will be done with this political organization still in its infancy and facing turmoil, but it likely will not be a positive outcome.  The victims here are those who volunteered countless hours to a cause doomed for implosion by leadership with a lack of integrity.  Politics is ugly and dishonest by nature.  But when a political group like this one is rotten at its core, it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of those who  dedicated their time and made sacrifices so they could volunteer for a cause they felt was noble.

About Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, and the author of Understanding an Atheist: A Practical Guide to Relating to Nonbelievers, a book aimed at improving relationships between the religious and their atheist loved ones. Kevin is also the Executive Director of Young Skeptics, an elementary-level after-school program for kids focused on critical thinking. Guest bloggers are welcome at SecularVoices. Please email submissions to contact@secularvoices.org.

  • http://fjpor.wordpress.com fjpor

    That’s what happens when you go against what your original organisation was about and try to be all things to all people . Never works .

  • https://www.facebook.com/troy.boyle Troy Boyle

    Nice article Kevin. From the outside, I’m in complete agreement. Survey Monkey was never supposed to be used for official votes, just quick “surveys.” “Election Buddy” – which is NOT vulnerable to ballot stuffing, was the product we selected when I was President of the party. I’m just as saddened by this turn of events as anyone else.

  • Jacob K

    Well, even Election Buddy and other high security E-voting tools can do nothing to guard against the person inputting to have access to include more recipients. What you can do in both, however, is close the recipient list and freeze it once the ballot is opened.

    More importantly votes and security of the membership Roster and the recipient list should be independently reviewed and cross-checked by appropriate administration in the party and an independent oversight committee.

    Neither of these last two were done, it seems like only 2 to 4 people held access to the election tool.

  • Jacob K

    Kevin, I would also say – unless it has been changes- and I’ll grant I don’t know if it is directly addressed in the charity. But the percentage for passage is out of the total vote, and an abstain would be considered a vote for no change or indifference.

    • http://dividedundergod.com Kevin Davis, Head Writer

      Jacob, according to Roberts Rules, my calculation is done correctly. The abstain votes should be counted toward quorum (as in the voting member did attend and cast a vote), but not counted either way in the Yes/No vote. They should be pulled out entirely when calculating percentages. Otherwise, counting them in the total vote would unfairly lower the Yes percentage by diluting the total votes number, effectively having the same impact as a No vote.

  • Jacob K

    Before I left we had adopted RRO for Exec Board conduct, but we never applied it to ballot process

  • Jacob K

    e. Basic additions & revisions to the Charter require a majority of 66% to pass. In order for any proposal adding to or revising what is considered “core values” of the Party require a “super-majority” of 75% to become part of the Charter.

    Here is the applicable section. It doesn’t specifically address the no vote or abstain vote, but as the language just states majority, I think you must assume , majority of ALL votes.

    However I think you bring up a great point, and this lack of clarity could certainly be something. For the new board to address.

    • http://dividedundergod.com Kevin Davis, Head Writer

      I disagree. I would assume the majority of all votes that COUNT. Simple logic would suggest an abstention vote would be removed altogether, by definition of abstain. But that language in the charter is so vague that you could even argue that you need that percentage of all members, not just members who voted. Just another example of poor execution by this party.