Voter engagement key to success in 2020 JEA election

Candace Bowen talks about Media Law at the 2017 Journalism Education Association Advisers Institute at the Linq Hotel in Las Vegas. Photo by Bradley Wilson

No matter your political party or philosophical leanings, this year pretty much everyone agrees voting is important. Whether liberal or conservative, red or blue, young or old, rich or poor, marking our ballots is a necessity.

How else can we have a say in our lives? How can we make sure our leaders will listen to what we suggest? Bottom line, we know it’s important for our future.

This is true for the U.S., each state, county, city and school board position. It’s also true for the Journalism Education Association. Yes, JEA has an election coming up in 2020, too. As the appointed nominations chair, I have been working with Executive Director Kelly Glasscock to make sure engagement is the key word this time.

First, we need the best people running for office.  As leaders, we want those with passion, experience and time to dedicate to what each office requires. We need people we can count on to ensure things run smoothly and accomplishments are innovative and have members’ needs in mind.

As I write this in early July, we have some incumbents interested in running again, some still undecided and others who find themselves unable to do so. With a two-term limit now as part of the bylaws, only Megan Fromm, current educational initiatives director, is ineligible to run again for her current office. 

My charge is to have a slate to present at the member meeting Friday morning, Nov. 22 at the National High School Journalism Convention in Washington, D.C. I will be reaching out to state scholastic press associations, state directors, JEA committee chairs and the membership in general, seeking just the right people for each position. I hope to come to that convention meeting with a diverse list of those who want to serve this organization and have agreed to run. Others can be nominated from the floor after the initial slate is presented.

Positions include president, vice president, scholastic press rights director, educational initiatives director, plus three directors at large. With this election, because of a recent bylaw change, these will truly be at-large directors, not necessarily one each from East, Central and West. When those at the member meeting accept the slate, we’ve will have crossed the first hurdle — we have our candidates, a group interested in being JEA’s new board.

My next step after that is to engage all members in the voting process. Like any election, it’s important to know the candidates and their qualifications and goals. We’ll try to make that easy for everyone with three ways to learn more. First, a website will be posted with candidate photos and statements. Second, like the last election, we’ll host a special listserv two weeks before the election for those who wish to participate, offering a chance to ask candidates about specific topics and discuss issues. Finally, we’re working on a plan to allow a sort of moderated livestream Q & A that would allow members to ask candidates questions in realtime.

Details about all these processes will be explained in detail in November, but they all are designed to increase member engagement. Three years ago, only 848 of 2,529 eligible members submitted their ballots. That means roughly one third of our members decided the leaders for all of us. That isn’t good enough.

In early February, ballots will go out by email to all members, who will then have 10 days to vote. By that time, everyone should have had opportunities to get to know their potential leaders and to make informed choices. By May 1, the new board – one selected by members who know the value of submitting their ballots – will become our JEA officers for the next three years.

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