CTU ELECTION NEWS ANALYSIS I: Ballot Position, Its Importance Depends on Organization

There have been several questions asked here at SubstanceNews and by e-mail and phone since the April 7 debate among the five remaining candidates for the presidency of the Chicago Teachers Union. For all of our readers, they indicate that it's time to launch a new section here at SubstanceNews to answer questions specific to the CTU election, opening those to discussion in the SubstanceNews "Comments" sections. This will be the first of many.

Looking back as far as I can in the history of Chicago Teachers Union elections that I was involved in or monitored, since 1980 ballot position has varied according to the strength of the candidates' organizations and the intensity of the voters' interest. In order to do a more thorough analysis we'd have to review each election with the ballots in hand, and then know something about the strength of the candidates and their organizations going in.

It would be a major mistake to be complacent based on some fantasy estimate of the importance of ballot position (in fact, nobody in CTU elections knows). There is also, in this country, a big problem with assigning some precise number to something you don't really have the historical knowledge to understand in the actual historical context of the actual election we're talking about here.

I ran for citywide union office on the CRAFT slate in 1980, and for CTU President in 1984, 1988, and 1994, "losing" each time. By 1988, in addition to Substance, we had a viable organization that was a presence in more than 100 schools, including the majority of the high schools. In most cases, our presence in the high schools was a credible person (usually either the delegate or associate delegate) who worked hard. A caucus that doesn't have the loyalty and participation of the delegate will always be at a disadvantage (see below) and that will far outweigh "ballot position," which at best is technical. The more credibility a candidate and slate have by election day in each school, the stronger the run will be. I would be very wary of assigning any numerical value (as Jay has tried to do) to ballot position. Why? It varies from school to school, and from election to election. During the years that Chicago's United Progressive Caucus was strongest, they had enough organization to offset any disadvantage they might have suffered by getting a "weak" ballot position. But let's consider some factors. In my experience, much more important than ballot position is the ranking school delegate. Any caucus that neglects to work with the delegates — and realize that the delegate is central to the union's work — is making a grave and (in one case) fatal error. It will be the delegate (or someone assigned by the delegate) who will run the election on election day. And it will be the delegate (or people assigned by the delegate) who will be most intimately involved in the run-up to the election.

The key dates during the run up are the week before the election, and the Sunday before the election. The nights of election week, the candidates can be making phone calls or even holding meetings, but if there is not someone in each school reminding teachers that the voting is coming up (and also telling voters who they support), the meetings take on less and less importance.

Phone trees are the fundamental closers, with very clear palm cards necessary by election day. The May 21 CTU ballot will be unprecedented in its complexity. Five slates will be available across the top, with voters (don't forget this) able to vote for the entire slate by marking one "X" in the slate box (actually, a circle unless something is changed, or split the ballot by going down and voting only for individual candidates of their choice in the boxes beside each candidate's name. In order to vote for each of the more than 200 candidates that will be available to elementary teachers on election day, and ignore the slate, voters would have to be ready and willing to spend more than five minutes marking their ballots. From everything I've seen and studied, there has never been a CTU election when more than ten percent of the voters split their votes. The majority of votings will be for slates (if history is any guide).

A week before the election, every voter will receive a SAMPLE BALLOT that is in the form of the ballot to be case on May 21, but color coded and labelled so that not too many voters get mixed up. At a well organized school, the delegate will host a meeting to go over the election procedures and use the sample ballot for show-and-tell. One of the specialties of the old UPC is that their hard core delegates would basically use the sample ballot as a palm card. As early as the 1984 election, Hudson Wadlington and I walked into a union meeting at the old Bryn Mawr Elementary School and watched as the UPC delegate, the relentless Thelma Perkins (now a retiree delegate who was leafleting at the April 7, 2010 meeting on behalf of UPC) was displaying a marked sample ballot showing a room full of teachers and other union members (in those days, Bryn Mawr, now Bouchet, was worth more than 100 votes) how to mark their ballots for the UPC. She was holding up a sample ballot when we interrupted her meeting and reminded people that there were other candidates running. The subsequent explosion was memorable. I realized at that point that UPC was probably holding similar meetings at a hundred schools, and that was how it was done effectively.

Probably the second most important factor for the election is mass communications. If the delegates are not in place, the only substitute is communications. In 2001, as people who honestly reported the run up to the election will remember, Substance was mailed three times to every teacher at their schools. The final issue, May 2001, was by many accounts conclusive, although most of the widely read versions of the 2001 union history ignore this (most notably, a very inaccurate piece in Labor Notes). Unless candidates are communicating with voters right up to the night before the election, there are holes that can't be filled.

The wild card this year (and since the late 1990s really) is effective use of the Internet. The Web sites have to be ready to provide information, but at the present time, it is almost impossible for voters to find the Web sites of the caucuses (other than CORE and PACT for voters who come to SubstanceNews regularly, because of the CORE and PACT ads running here). So it may be that even as late as the final week, the Internet impact will be negligible or negative (if it's featuring some controversial stuff, it will definitely be a negative, as I've reminded some caucuses already).

As late as the 2004 election, the UPC had cadre who could get instant voter counts, based on "exit polls", from more than 100 schools. If those hundred are reflective enough, then that count will give the caucus that can do it enough information to know who won by about 10:00 that day. Remember, all the voting takes place before 9:00 a.m. even though the ballots are not picked up until much later and the polls should be open in some way (citywide voters have to find a place to vote). In the 2004 election, UPC had more reliable exit polling than PACT at the time of both votes (May and the June runoff). Their ground game between the May and June votes was a model for the way in which CTU politicians need to organize. This, of course, was helped by the fact that they had the majority of the field reps helping them, in ways overt or covert. Of that, we can only speak when there is more time.

One final point that can't be overstated.

CTU voters can't be spun. As the election draws near, more and more people will be asking serious questions and expecting serious answers. The voters will never forgive a caucus or candidate who tries to spin then, so any short term benefit from "framing" will prove a long-term mistake if it proves memorable. That's one of the main reasons we're emphasizing credibility and accuracy here at SubstanceNews.

Negative campaigning in CTU has worked and will continue to. Since there is no way to know how any candidate will "go negative" at the finish line, the impact will be uncertain until it's analyzed when it's too late to do any good.

I hope this helps start discussion. Thanks for giving me the time to begin this discussion. 


April 9, 2010 at 7:00 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Ballot position irrelevant in CTU elections.

I just posted this column taking issue with a recent comment on another thread. I hope this begins the discussion we need on many aspects of the upcoming election and beyond. My basic point is that it is a very bad idea to assign some kind of numerical fact to "ballot position" in CTU elections. There are at least five or six more importance factors, some of which I try to outline above. Also, and this should never be forgotten, the union has to come out of May 21 — and the possible runoff — ready to mobilize against unprecedented attacks.

If I were operating from the position of our enemies (not simply the Daley administration, but the rulers of Chicago from the corporate class), I'd hope that this election would be as dirty, silly, and fantasy filled as possible. If those conditions continue (they have already begun, as anyone reading the UPC leaflets from the past three months can attest), then the rubbish heap that was the CTU by election day will remain hopelessly crippled for a long time to come.

We will be publishing some of the dirtiest of the UPC leaflets over the next few weeks, both to highlight their hypocrisy and to note the enormous amount of money they are spending for their House of Delegates and school-based propaganda.

I have offered to cover UPC news as well as news of the other caucuses, but so far, UPC is the only caucus that hasn't provided Substance with a contact person. So be it.

April 9, 2010 at 5:50 PM

By: Bob

April 13th

April 13

Next Tuesday is the 13th of April. So what? might you ask well that’s the

Day the Illinois General Assemble gets back to work. I have heard that body

wants to wrap up this secession early in May. So it should be a couple of interesting


April 10, 2010 at 9:27 AM

By: Jesse Sharkey

Pie on Your Plate?

In addition to the important points George makes here (union elections are won by organization!) we should think about Marilyn and the UPC's main message at the candidates forum, "we put pie on your plate... a five year contract with 4 percent raises during the worst recession since the 1930's."

Will this message be convincing? I don't think so. Too many teachers and PSRP's know that our public schools are under serious threat, and may not continue to exist if we don't fight privatization, turnarounds, and attacks on our tenure. 'We put pie on your plate' is basically a conservative appeal--hold pat with us, things are going pretty well.

Really? Just ask the 50-year-old displaced teacher who is subbing in your building how our union is doing. It is not 'pie in the sky' to say that we will stop Ren 2010, test-score driven school competitions, and other free-market madness. We have to.

April 10, 2010 at 10:18 AM

By: kugler

Let them Eat Pie

the UPC slogan should be:

we got the pie,

you got the crumbs,

so be happy chumps.

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