LEADERSHIP FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM

Regarding Governance and The United States Chess Federation

 

"The option before us then lay between an appointment by Electors chosen by the

people - and an immediate appointment by the people. He thought the former mode

free from many of the objections which had been urged against it, and greatly

preferable to an appointment by the National Legislature. ... This Mode however

had been rejected so recently and by so great a majority that it probably would

not be proposed anew. The remaining mode was an election by the people or

rather by the qualified part of them, at large: With all its imperfections he

liked this best." [James Madison, 07/25/1787]

 

BACKGROUND

 

We in the United States live in a relatively democratic society. As an adult

citizen your input is solicited concerning your leadership at the polls and is

often solicited in many membership forums such as your professional

organization, your church, or your union. You vote for your leaders

individually and directly by their name.

 

The United States Chess Federation (USCF) is a national nonprofit membership

corporation incorporated under State of Illinois law. The Illinois General

Not-For-Profit Corporation Act of 1986 states that members of not for profit

corporations have asserted rights, as such, in the nature of derivative rights

of shareholders of business corporations. In this regard the main business of

the membership is the election of its leadership, just as full shareholders do

in business corporations. Thus if a nonprofit corporation establishes a

membership structure in its Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws, then members

of the corporation will be granted fundamental rights to participate in the

affairs and future of the nonprofit corporation unless the Articles or Bylaws

state otherwise. The USCF mission says it is structured to ensure effective

democratic procedures in accord with its bylaws and the laws of the state of

Illinois. The USCF has chosen instead to set up a system in which a small group

of special electors are selected who are the only ones who can vote for

officers who provide the leadership and oversight to the USCF mission. The

system chosen emulates a parliamentary government model rather than a

non-profit membership corporation model. We are told the primary goal of the

USCF is to maximize participation in chess.

 

THE LEADERSHIP CRISIS

 

For decades the USCF has suffered under the governance of insiders. Regular

adult memberships have stagnated for nearly 20 years; membership increases have

been mainly in loss-making categories; constant financial crises and dues hikes

occur against the background of a growing U.S. economy. USCF membership as a

percentage of the US population by age structure continues to decline. A Harris

poll indicates that over 25 million Americans know how to play chess. Yet the

USCF struggled throughout the 1980s and 1990's at about 30,000 full adult

members, no greater than at the height of the Fischer boom in the 1970s. Losses

have been so steep that a treasurer studied the modalities for filing

bankruptcy papers; the red ink often flows as it did last year. Chess Life

regularly labors under budget cuts. The USCF never held a topnotch grandmaster

tournament. The US Championship languishes in isolated hotels and college

campuses. Little effort is made to foster chess as a national or international

amateur sports competition. There are no high-profile media events. We don't

know exactly how our dues money is allocated or spent to advance chess.

Special interests prevail. Our best talents often quit in disgust. Most

importantly, there is no clear-cut business plan, no strategic goals, and no

accountability for meeting these nonexistent goals. The focus is relentlessly

small-time.

 

Accountability is currently missing from the Federation governance process.

Accountability of the Policy Board officers to the membership as well as

accountability of the Federation Executive Director and staff to the Policy

Board, all needs to be improved. Much more openness with the membership by its

leaders is also necessary. In the best of the current system one votes for a

set of electors which vote for the national officers who sit on the Policy

Board. In the new and improved USCF governance system one still votes for a set

of electors, which vote for the national officers who sit on the Policy Board.

It is most important that the national officers be more accountable to the

membership.

 

Having a balanced Board is critical to its long-term success. Many of the

problems of the Board are in simplest terms a direct result of a lack of

balance in its representation. Those with state affiliate politics and

tournament directing/promoting experience are considered the best qualified to

lead in the current system. A similar group elects such leaders. Thus many

perceive governance to be in the hands of a small, unchanging number of people.

Efforts are made to control the succession of slates of allied officers by

insiders and to have longer terms of appointment. Note the growth and

popularity of chess is tied to chess as a sport and the growth and popularity

of the Internet. It has to grow exponentially. People get mad at the USCF

because it has incompetent leadership or poor customer service. Those are

things that could change. If the USCF got better leadership or better customer

service, the old animosities would vanish quickly. No system is in place to

help find and encourage the best talent in the Federation to serve amongst its

leaders. New blood in the leadership ranks and a diversity of ideas is

desperately needed.

 

Officers currently are not chosen through an authentic democratic process.

Campaigns are conducted via private phone calls among the "old boy" network and

messages are often tailored to what the person on the other end of the line

wants to hear. The quality of these campaigns is notoriously low, and the

mudslinging is awful. It can be very expensive to run a successful campaign.

Many successful businessmen take one look at the USCF political arena and

decide they have better things to do with their time and money. Hence the same

faces year after year involved in USCF leadership. Hence the radical

under-performance of our elected officials, who serve without pay and abuse the

perks. The hallmark of democratic campaigning is a common message that stands

or falls in the public arena, not private campaigning.

 

The USCF is not a trade association, union, or government. However, the USCF is

currently run as if it were some sort of national government. In fact its

governance system appears to be modeled after the parliamentary system used in

Great Britain. With this structure the focus thus has become on politics and

not the USCF mission. Fragmentation, infighting, and patronage are common

results rather than carrying out the USCF mission and the will of the

membership. Those with state affiliate politics and tournament

directing/promoting experience are considered the best qualified to lead in

such a system. The USCF is not a government but a non-profit [currently

501(c)(4)] membership corporation and needs to be run like such a business.

Previous experience running non profit charitable organizations, for profit

corporations, or previous national officer/Board experience is much more

important qualification to be successful in this corporate model.

 

The size of the electorate for officers is now kept under one percent of the

total membership. Some insiders would like an even smaller electorate. Such a

small electorate is easy to reach and influence. It is felt that electors need

the opportunity to thoroughly know the candidates and understand the issues and

thus keeping the group small is thought to be a way to accomplish this. It is

assumed that such a small group will be well-informed and select good leaders.

The current system has yet to validate this assumption. Some believe with a

larger electorate the people who are really interested in advancing chess would

lose some of the voice they currently have. However, larger groups actually do

better at selecting representative leaders because personal relationships or

special interests less influence them. The fact that chess organizers/state

officials now nominate and vote for other chess organizers/state officials is

the very type of tight nit and closed system that is considered problematic.

 

Very few will argue that the problems [or features] as described above do not

exist within the current governance system. The issue is what to do about them.

This discussion has been going on for almost a decade. One thought is to give

recent governance changes regarding voting for delegates a few years to sort

themselves out, and then in the future USCF members can try to elect delegates

who would put reforms on the agenda and pass any further reforms over the next

five to ten years. This may eventually work but we think that the crisis in

USCF leadership may require more immediate attention.

 

A NEW DIRECTION

 

Imagine a USCF Policy Board consisting of such individuals as Andrew Grove,

Prema Mathai-Davis, J. Michael Cook, Laura Rossi, Garry Kasparov, Elizabeth

Dole, and Elinor Ferdon. Imagine all that talent channeled to guide and advance

chess in America. If you can visualize this type of Policy Board then the next

step is to imagine what type of governance system would be necessary to

attract, elect and support such talent on behalf of chess. It certainly is not

the current closed system, but would be a more open and participatory system.

 

One Member One Vote (OMOV) is the idea that full members of an organization can

vote for the national officers that represent them. Under OMOV you vote for

your leaders individually and directly by their name. This is hardly a radical

or new idea. In the recent USCF Chess Life governance survey, the responding

members indicated overwhelming support for OMOV. Supporters of OMOV state that

such a system will provide better accountability of the USCF national officers

to the membership, more diversity amongst the officers and those running for

office, and greater participation and interest from the membership than with

the current system. This is backed up by real life impacts of OMOV in existing

non-profit membership organizations. OMOV is more than a theory and does

work in practice. Many in the USCF leadership claim they are in favor of

OMOV in principle but can never find a workable implementation. There are

many real examples of OMOV used in organizations. This simple fact keeps

flying in the face of those who claim OMOV is a crackpot scheme filled with fatal

defects.

 

THE CASE AGAINST CHANGE

 

The opponents of OMOV state that many disastrous things will possibly occur

under OMOV such as elections costing too much to run for office, large groups

of voters being easier to fool and having their votes bought, or only rich

people with name recognition being elected to national office. Only possible

problems are presented but with no solutions other than not using OMOV. These

ideas actually come from extending the problems in the current system and just

adding more people. These are all claims with no supporting evidence. The

opponents have yet to provide examples from any other nonprofit membership

corporations that uses OMOV where such problems have occurred. Most of the fears

in our view are really that no longer can the insiders control who runs for

office and they think the wrong people will be elected, people not like them.

The type of Policy Board imagined above would probably be such an insider's

worst nightmare.

 

Over the last decade the opponents of OMOV have rehearsed a bewildering and

often contradictory array of arguments against OMOV. The perennial arguments

are we would have OMOV already if the membership was really interested,

that it would cost too much and, in any case, would be difficult if not

impossible to implement. Finally, we are told we should wait five or ten years

to see how recent changes to the governance system work out before implementing

OMOV, yet these changes address none of the major problems associated with

selecting national officers. Also the way delegates are appointed at the USCF

Annual Meeting only helps work against any real change.

 

Lesser arguments used in the past are that OMOV would result either in little

change of officers due to lack of interest or too much change because of name

recognition; that it would result in too little in-depth debate of serious

issues or too heated and extensive debate; that it would lead to less democracy

or too much Athenian style democracy; that there is too much apathy or too much

potential interest; that a ticket favoring the dissolution of the USCF or,

alternatively, its too rapid expansion could get elected; that there should be

no poll in Chess Life because members naturally will support democracy, or

because not enough people would respond, or too many would respond, thereby

costing too much to tabulate the ballots. It was even suggested that under OMOV

people like Bill Goichberg might become USCF officers [he has already been an

officer several times under the current system]. One of the more humorous

objections is that a national conspiracy by dozens or perhaps hundreds of

fanatics could collect ballots from around the country and flood ballot boxes.

No other non profit membership corporation that uses OMOV has these proposed

array of problems that are claimed will occur in the USCF. Why don't we learn

from others experience?

 

A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE

 

Rather than endless debating over imaginary problems it was thought it might be

good to look at an OMOV implementation in another corporation. No other

non-profit membership organization we can find has a system where you vote for

special voting members who vote for officers. Actually, very few OMOV

organizations have any campaigning outside their standard channels, most use

independent election firms, and none use voter registration. This type of model

has always been the one recommended. Since it appears that some want extensive

campaigning but are concerned with the possible impact of such all out active

campaigning under OMOV, let's look at an organization that encourages such all

out campaigning. There are several good OMOV examples but we could only find

one organization that has this type of all out campaigning. Let us consider

this a worst case example of what might happen under OMOV.

 

The American Philatelic Society (APS) is a non-profit membership corporation

[501(c)(3)] devoted to advancing stamp collecting. With approximately 60,000

members, 700 Chapters, and 200 Affiliates, APS is the largest, nonprofit

membership society in the world for stamp collectors. It is supported entirely

by membership dues, gifts and the sale of its publications and services.

Founded in 1886, the APS is now in its second century of service to stamp

collectors and postal historians. The Society is governed by an eleven-member

Board of Directors elected biennially by the membership. Elections for these

officers are conducted by mail-in ballot.

 

Historically the APS has been controlled by exhibitors (like USCF organizers)

and judges (like USCF TD's) who played musical chairs on the board, but under

OMOV has gotten more diverse as more and more members participate in the

governance process. The recent presidential election was one of the closest

races in APS history. The hard-fought campaign was the first to be waged

extensively over the Internet, where the candidates posted their position

papers, and issues were argued by members. The result was an election turnout

of a 16.9 percent response from some 56,000 potential voters. It was a

do-or-die contest for the presidential aspirants. They waged their campaigns

with advertisements in the American Philatelist, the society's monthly journal

(like USCF Chess Life), and in Linn's Stamp News a weekly publication for the

stamp hobbyist (like Inside Chess).

 

In 1993, when all positions on the board were contested, it was the first year

that pre-printed ballot envelopes were inserted with the ballots in the

American Philatelist. The current election brought an infusion of new blood to

the 11-member board as four new directors-at-large were chosen. The new board

also will have more women than any previous APS board with four female

officers. The winner for president said his campaign raised and spent about

$10,000 and his opponent published he spent $5,900 (these costs are not

dissimilar to current USCF presidential campaigns). The APS campaigning was

mostly on issues and characterized as a high-minded campaign.

 

The type of people running for office this last year included: an U.S. State

Department official; a philatelic publisher; a CBS radio producer; a faculty

member of the School of Pharmacy at SUNY in Buffalo; an attorney for the

Indiana General Assembly; a former civil rights worker; a TWA pilot; an

University of Georgia faculty member; a California businessman; and a

Philadelphia stamp dealer. It is important to note that other than the

Presidency, even in the APS it only costs a candidate a couple of hundred

dollars to run for office. This cost is also the norm to run for office under

OMOV where private campaigning is limited.

 

It is important to note that the leadership of the APS as a matter of practice

will formally solicit the input of the membership on important issues and will

use the membership views in their decision-making processes.

 

A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

 

In the September 1993 issue of Chess Life, the USCF President GM Maxim Dlugy

wrote "I now favor the adoption of a one-member-one-vote plan that would

provide you - the dues-paying members of our Federation - with a voice in our

collective future. This proposal has been repeatedly defeated at the annual

delegates meetings, and unless the general membership makes its views known,

will continue to be defeated in the foreseeable future." Unless determined

otherwise for good reasons, you have an asserted right to a system where all

full adult USCF members directly vote for national officers. We feel the

Federation's leadership needs to be directly answerable to the membership.

Tweaking an old proprietary model of indirect elections for officers won't make

that happen, what is needed is a well-established model for governance such as

OMOV. This is an important step in the right direction.

 

The general membership (both current and future) needs to make its views known,

so send your opinion on this issue to feedback_uscf@juno.com. Please also

consider voting with your pocketbook and not giving any of your hard-earned

dollars to the USCF until you get a voice in the selection of national

officers. As GM Larry Evans has noted: "No one has ever claimed that allowing

the full adult membership to directly vote for their Policy Board is a panacea

for all of the Federation's electoral problems, but why should the Federation

be different from most other comparable membership organizations that extend

voting rights to dues-paying members in good standing? How long will it

continue to squander its most precious resource and best salesmen - its own

members?" Only you, as a dues-paying member, should decide.

 

"Draney is right that OMOV is inevitable. All the haggling is over

implementation dates." [Tom Dorsch, USCF Treasurer, 08/19/1997]

 

****

APPENDIX

 

Proposed Areas of Revision to New USCF Bylaws Supporting One Member One Vote

 

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Article IV: Voting Members

 

Section 1.Definition. Each Life, Sustaining, Regular, Senior, and Blind member

is a Voting Member during the term of his or her membership.

 

Section 2. Responsibility. The Voting Members are responsible for electing the

Delegates who represent their state and the Policy Board.

 

----

Article V. Board of Delegates

 

Section 8. Delegates at Large. DELETED [as well as all other references]

 

Section 9. Electors - The electors consist of the Voting Members.

 

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Article VI: Policy Board

 

Section 1. Composition. The Policy Board shall consist of the President, Vice

President, Secretary, Treasurer, and three Members at Large elected by all

Voting Members. All Policy Board members are national officers of the

Federation.

 

Section 4. Nomination. Any adult USCF member shall be eligible for nomination

to any elected office upon submitting to the Secretary by April 1 of an

election year a valid petition containing the signatures of 25 or more Voting

Members. No employee of the USCF is eligible to serve on the Policy Board. The

Secretary shall have advertised a call for nominations in the issue of Chess

Life published no later than January 20 of an election year and shall publish a

list of all duly submitted nominations in the issue published not later than

June 20 of an election year. The Secretary will pass all valid petitions to the

Nominating Committee.

 

Section 5. Election of Policy Board Members. Each year, in which an election is

to take place, ballots for a secret mail vote shall be inserted in the final

issue of Chess Life, which is published not later than June 15. The ballots

shall be mailed to an independent agency for counting. A plurality shall elect

and the previous sitting President shall break any ties. Elections shall be

held every even numbered year as necessary.

 

Section 6. Election of Policy Board Officers. DELETED

 

Section 7. Terms of Office. The terms of the Policy Board members shall

commence at their first meeting, which shall immediately follow the Annual

Meeting, and shall continue for four years except as provided in Section 11 of

this article. No individual shall serve more than eight years on the Policy

Board.

 

Section 10. Removal and Recall. Members of the Policy Board are subject to

removal through recall by Petition for Recall.

 

Petition for Recall. A petition for Recall bearing the signatures

of at least three percent of the electors may be filed with the USCF Secretary,

except that a Petition to Recall the USCF Secretary shall be filed with the

USCF President. Upon certification of the petition, notice of the recall shall

be provided to the Electors by mail and the Policy Board Member who is subject

to recall shall have no less than thirty days to communicate his/her views to

the Electors. At the end of that period a recall ballot shall be mailed to the

Electors providing for its return within 21 days. The ballots shall be mailed

to an independent agency for counting. The recall vote shall be approved by an

absolute majority of those voting.

 

Section 11. Campaigning.

 

Free Candidate Statements. In the issue of Chess Life published two months

before the issue containing the ballot, each Policy Board candidate is entitled

to a free statement of up to 250 words in support of his or her candidacy. In

the issue of Chess Life containing the ballot, each Policy Board candidate is

entitled to a free supplement statement of up to 2,500 words in support of his

or her candidacy. Materials to be determined may also be published on the

organizations official web site.

 

Candidate Paid Advertising. In the issue of Chess Life containing the ballot,

each Policy Board candidate is entitled to purchase up to one page of

advertising to promote his or her candidacy, to be charged at the affiliate

rate. No other paid or unpaid advertising in USCF publications is permitted.

 

Campaigning Limitations. Campaigns should provide a common public message. To

that end public Internet debates among and individual postings by candidates

and their supporters/opponents are encouraged. [Add other private campaigning

restrictions here]

 

Campaigning Ethics. No person shall submit for publication or cause to be

published any printed paid advertisement promoting any person's candidacy in an

USCF election without that person's consent. No member may make or publish any

false, misleading, libelous or slanderous statements. No member may cause to be

published or distributed any advertisement relating to an USCF election that

does not include the name and USCF membership number of the sponsoring person

or organization. If the sponsor is a committee or organization, the name and

address of its chair or other principal representative must be included in the

advertisement. No advertisement relating to an USCF election (or any envelope

or wrapper therefor) shall include any name, abbreviation, device or address

that will in any manner indicate or imply the USCF's endorsement of, or

opposition to, any candidate. Any member violating any of the preceding

provisions shall be subject to expulsion, suspension or other disciplinary

action therefore by the Policy Board.

 

----

Article VII: Other Officers, Appointees, and Committees

 

Section 3. Committees Appointed by the Delegates. The Board of Delegates shall

appoint the following Standing Committees:

 

1) Life Member Assets Management; 2) Bylaws; 3) Ethics; 4) Nominating.

 

The Board of Delegates shall designate a Chairman and Vice Chairman of each

Standing Committee, except that the Life Member Assets Management Committee and

the Nominating Committee shall select its own officers. No Nominating Committee

member shall be a member of the Policy Board.

 

The Committee may select a replacement for any committee member who has

resigned or died between meetings of the Board of Delegates. A Standing

Committee may select a replacement for any committee member who has resigned or

died between Annual Delegates' Meetings. A vacancy in the Committee Chair

shall be filled by the Vice-Chair. Members of Committees appointed by the

Delegates take office on the first day of the month following their

appointment. The Delegates may appoint other special or standing committees as

needed.