Product has been added to the basket

Democratic deficit

Mr David Shilston, President Designate elect

Geoscientist 21.05 June 2011

In the recent consultative ballot, Fellows elected an engineering geologist as President Designate. We offer our congratulations to David Shilston (pictured left), the first President to be drawn from the Geological Society’s most numerous specialism. But after this, and recently electing only its second female President in 200 years, has the Society reason to feel content with its election process?

However gratifying these recent outcomes, we should recall that only about 10% of Fellows voted – low, even by European Parliamentary Election standards. But is the comparison appropriate? Perhaps we should look instead at Building Societies. In the property-owning democracy, we will almost all receive their election papers, for at least some portion of our lives. Yet how many of us read, let alone return them? Shareholder meetings, rather notoriously, only excite large turn-outs when fear and loathing stalk the land. Some might therefore argue that low turnouts indicate that members are happy. Perhaps it’s less apathy, more complacency.

The Society has reformed its election process, with some success. Participation has in fact risen to (and stuck at) 10% from even lower levels. Following the Byelaws Review in 2000, the entire voting system was overhauled. The Society now publishes much more information. Routinely, for President Designate and Council elections, the number of candidates now exceeds the places available. It publishes, through this magazine and the website, information on candidates’ academic backgrounds, areas of specialism, regional provenance, and sectors of employment.

This is a conscious attempt to introduce candidates to voters, allowing the electorate to feel that there is enough information on which to base a choice – recognising that the Society is now so large and diverse that voters will probably not know candidates personally, or even by repute. Furthermore, the Society now makes it possible for Fellows to vote online in a process that takes minutes and even removes the need to buy a stamp.

So – as we prepare for the gala day that is President’s Day (and please don’t forget that it’s not all boring AGM – there are fascinating talks too, and they’re all free!) now is your chance to say something about it. Remember, this magazine belongs to you, not to “the Society”. If you think that the heroic efforts that the Society believes it has made to redress its democratic deficit have been inadequate and footling, please say so - and we shall publish, regardless.