The sociocratic election process is used to assign people to jobs, choose operations leaders, and elect representatives to policy-making teams. It can also be used when choosing between any of several options.
As groups of people who work together toward a common aim, circles have both a vested interest in selecting the best person for a job and the most information about who that might be.
The Election Process
The circle meets for the purpose of deciding who is the best available person for a job. Election is by the consent of all members present or their consent to using a method other than consent. Alternate methods may include range voting, preference voting, majority vote, etc. The group may also consent to delegating the final decision.
1. The election leader reads the job description.
The job description defines the aim of the election. As an aim, it establishes the basis for argument and consent.
The group may have previously defined the functions and tasks of the person to be elected and consented to the job description, or it may be done in the same meeting. The election leader may have been previously elected, may be the regular leader of the group, or may be elected in the same meeting. This is determined by the size and complexity of the organization and the nature of the election, whether, for example, it is expected to be highly competitive or is a key position.
2. Nominations are submitted in writing as simply “X nominates X.”
Circle members may nominate themselves. They may nominate someone who is not a member of the circle or nominate an “outside search” for someone not currently a member of the circle.
3. Members give their arguments for the person they nominated.
All arguments for one nominee are presented in the same round, asking the additional nominators if they have arguments to add to those of the first person to present. The election leader should monitor whether arguments are based on the job description and the ability of the person to fulfill its requirements and stop the presenter if they are not.
4. Nominators change or withdraw nominations.
After arguments in favor of nominations are presented, members are given the opportunity to change or withdraw their nominations.
5. Open discussion or rounds on the qualifications of nominated members.
Depending on the size of the circle, members may do rounds to discuss the candidates or have open discussion facilitated by the election leader. At this time any concerns about or objections to candidates may be addressed by the candidate or other by other members of the circle. When appropriate, the election leader may suggest that one person seems to be the best candidate. The group must consent to this decision.
6. Candidates accept or decline.
When one candidate has received the consent of all members present, that candidate is asked if they will accept the position. Candidates are not allowed to decline before this point because some candidates migh decline prematurely for fear of standing for election or inappropriately believing themselves to be unqualified. On hearing why their peers have elected them, candidates are more likely to accept.
Candidates may also accept with provisions, such as a modification in the job description, additional financial or personal support, etc. The group must decide to accept these changes by consent. If they do not, another round may be conducted to elect another of the candidates nominated or a new election conducted.
When the Election Process Produces Bad Results
There are several points at which a peer-to-peer election process can go awry:
1. Failure to read the job description or adhere to the job definition.
Not reading the job description will send the discussion off in the direction of favoritism, sympathy, path of least resistance, etc. The election leader should remind members of the job requirements when necessary. If an alternate decision-making method is used that requires a paper ballot, the job description should be included on the ballot.
During the election process, it may become clear that the job description needs to be amended. After amendment during discussion, the nominations round may need to be repeated.
2. Arguing against rather than for a nominee.
When arguments are given, they must be in favor of a nominee, not against another nominee. The election leader should stop any negative arguments or comparisons. During open discussion or discussion rounds, any person may raise concerns about a nominee based on previous actions or statements. Any other person present including the nominee may address those concerns. Both concerns and responses must be based on actual events or data, not potential actions or projected data or personal beliefs about the nature of the job or the person. In some contexts, personal feelings may be appropriate as data.
3. Asking the nominee before they are elected if they will serve.
Before an election some people will privately ask a person how they feel about being nominated, but generally this should be discouraged. The election is about the job to be done. The process is designed to determine the best available person for the job and to assure that person they are the most qualified. Circle members generally know, when a person will be unable to serve for personal reasons or because of other professional obligations. Asking them if they are willing to serve, short-circuits the process.
4. Attempting to squelch campaigning before an election.
Elections by consent provide their own protection against electioneering. If the group is truly a group of peers, their sense of each other will be determined by their experiences working together. It would be unusual to be able to change this perception by campaigning. Efforts to stop campaigning will distract the focus and place energy on the wrong issues.
5. Attempting consent without the conditions for consent.
Elections by consent are only workable when all members of a circle share a common aim, all participating members are willing to discuss together until objections to nominees are resolved, and all members consent on who may participate in the election.
To repeat, consent elections require a common aim, commitment to resolving objections, and defined decision-makers.