Editor's note:  the following is a revised and updated version of a letter I
sent to USCF Voting members in 1999.

                             by Bill Goichberg

                           The democratic way
USCF has always claimed to be a democratic organization.  Its mission statement
states, "It is structured to ensure effective democratic procedures." But, in 
practice, the members have little say in how the federation is run, as only the 
electors (called Voting Members before 2000, and now entitled Delegates and 
Alternate Delegates) have the right to vote for the Executive Board.  

Through 1999, the electors were elected or appointed by the state affiliates.
In 1998, a new method of selecting electors was approved, going into effect in 
2000, under which USCF members in each state select the state's electors.  This 
new procedure is commonly called "SOMOV," for "State One Member One Vote."  It 
is a democratization of the selection of Delegates to the annual meeting, but 
still leaves the election of our Executive Board as a basically undemocratic 
process, for several reasons:

1.  When voting for state Delegates and Alternates, in most cases, a member 
will have little or no idea how these Delegates and Alternates will vote for the 
Executive Board.  At the time of the state Delegate/Alternate elections, the 
candidates for the following year's Executive Board election are not even known.

2.  The vote for the Executive Board is a secret ballot, so that even if members 
contact their Delegates/Alternates to express their opinion as to how their 
representatives should vote, the latter are free to ignore them with no risk of
being defeated in the subsequent election as a result.

3.  In most states, the same Delegates/Alternates, mostly prominent organizers 
and TDs, tend to be elected year after year.  For example, this was long the 
case before 2000 in New York,  in which the NYSCA membership elected the state's 
USCF Voting Members.  The overwhelming majority of New York's current electors 
were elected every time they have run, a situation which did not change under 
SOMOV in 2000, as no incumbent electors were defeated.  

In virtually every other state as well in 2000, the state association slate was 
elected, usually without opposition.  There is nothing undemocratic about states 
re-electing the same people every time, but I can't buy the idea that this means 
that members are electing the Executive Board, when all they are really doing is 
repeatedly ratifying who the most popular organizers and TDs in the state are.

                       Better candidates
Many in USCF have long complained that we need higher quality candidates, 
especially those prominent in the business world.  But our present system tends 
to produce highly politicized elections, in which many candidates are more adept 
at making alliances and telling voters what they want to hear than in corporate 
management.  This is hardly surprising when the support of a few "insiders" may 
bring a candidate 20% or more of the vote needed to be elected, and candidates 
promise committee assignments to voters (as one did in 1999) in the hope of 
obtaining support.  If the membership is eligible to vote, the influence of the 
insiders will be greatly reduced, and prominent professionals who do not wish to 
play politics will be more likely to run.                             
                    A more responsive Board
One of the major advantages of democracy is that those who govern are accountable 
to those who elect them.  Do a poor job, and you won't be elected again.  
We now have a structure in which Board members interested in future Board service 
may be responsive to the electors, but not to the overall membership.  Organizers 
and TDs are vital to our federation, but a Board which does not place its top 
priority on the needs of the membership as a whole cannot do its best for USCF.  
Most of our membership is now shut out of the process of electing the Executive 
Board, so the dialogue we need to build a stronger federation is absent on both 
ends.  Candidates don't need member support to be elected, so few are in touch 
with the membership about issues, resulting in few members expressing opinions or 
becoming interested in federation affairs.  OMOV will break this vicious circle, 
invigorate the process, and enlarge the pool of those who care about USCF 

            Involving the membership: other benefits
Another important benefit of involving all interested adult members in the 
process of governance is that to some of these, the federation will become "us" 
rather than "them."  A member who is given a voice, and becomes interested in 
USCF issues or candidates, is far more likely to feel a part of the federation, 
not just a customer who subscribes to a magazine or purchases a chess book. 
Especially at a time when dwindling adult membership has been a problem, we 
should not overlook the possibility that members who feel included, consulted, 
or involved in USCF's mission of promoting American chess will be more likely to 
renew and spread the word than those who do not. Anyone who has spent much time 
reading the chess politics newsgroup has seen posts to the effect of "Why should 
I be a member of an organization that won't let me vote for its officers" or "I 
quit USCF five years ago and I won't return until I can vote."  I do not contend 
these are typical chessplayers (all chess, no politics is a far more common 
view), but even if such opinions represent only a small minority, and the good 
will caused by OMOV raises our adult membership by just a few hundred, this would
be of significant help.

                        A common message
When the number of potential voters is small, as it is today, it becomes easy 
for some candidates to tailor their phone message to what they think that voter 
wants to hear.  Unfair attacks are also made by phone on candidates who are unable 
to respond.  With some 50,000 potential voters, the importance of phone 
campaigning will be greatly reduced.  The primary media for campaigns under OMOV 
will be Chess Life election supplements and the internet, both featuring the 
common message desirable in an honest campaign.

                             It works!
OMOV is not a harebrained scheme.  It's not an unproven, radical theory, but is a 
method used with success by such groups as Common Cause, Sierra Club, American 
Philatelic Society, American Numismatic Association, American Contract Bridge 
League, National Rifle Association, and Handgun Control Inc.

Now, let's look at arguments that have been made against OMOV.

                        An elite voter group?
This argument maintains that, as Tim Redman wrote in the May 1998 Chess Life, 
only a select group of "well informed voters" who "give up a great deal of 
energy and time to serve the Federation" should be allowed to vote for the 
Executive Board.  Redman argues, "The confidence in the wisdom of the people 
and its transcending any need for information or restraint has ample historical 
precedent: in the know-nothing populism in this country during the latter part 
of the nineteenth century, in the belief in the inherent virtue of the "Volk" in 
Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, in Nixon's "silent majority."  

Redman apparently found it difficult to provide good examples of the evils of 
democracy, as the "know-nothing" populists had little success at the polls, the 
German democracy of the 1920s was doomed by worldwide depression after which talk 
of the "Volk" making decisions was just Nazi propaganda, and the "silent majority" 
was Nixon's way of claiming endorsement by the voters of positions they did not 
necessarily support.  None of Redman's examples indicates a drawback of democracy.

Nevertheless, there is no question that in a democracy, voters do often make 
mistakes.  USCF is basically an oligarchy governed by the elite, and here too the 
voters have recently made some serious mistakes.  But what is the alternative?  
As Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those 
other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Regarding informed voters, the OMOV Committee proposal calls for a 150 word 
statement in the April Chess Life, plus half pages in election supplements that 
will accompany or be inserted in the May and June issues of Chess Life, and 
equitable space on the USCF website.  

The internet will be a very significant campaign medium; most USCF members are 
already online, and by the OMOV implementation date of 2003, ever more will be.  
Those who do not own a computer may use the internet for little cost at their 
local library.  Few members who are interested will be unable to obtain 

The idea that only those members who do the most for us or are best informed 
can be trusted to vote is a centuries old, discredited case against democracy 
and for oligarchy.  It is a classic argument used by the upper economic classes 
of many nations to maintain their wealth and power, and to continue oppression 
of the poor.  Those who are denied the vote do indeed tend to be poorly informed, 
and this is just the way those in power like it.

In 1430, an Act of Parliament in England had a preamble which explained that a 
"very great and excessive number of people" had been voting in the county 
elections, each of them claiming "a voice equivalent... with the most worthy 
knights and esquires."  This Act, which remained in effect for four
centuries, required that no one could vote in a county election unless he owned 
a freehold property with an annual value of at least forty shillings.  Laws of 
this type were intended to keep the wealthy in power, not to promote voting by 
the well-informed.

In 19th century America, many states still required property ownership as a 
condition of voting. John Adams wrote in 1820, "If the radicals should succeed in 
obtaining universal suffrage, they will... turn those who have property out of 
their houses... Our ancestors have made a pecuniary qualification necessary... 
for electors, and all the wise men of the world have agreed in the same thing." 
But Thomas Jefferson did not agree, backing "general suffrage" and saying "I am 
not among those who fear the people."  The verdict of history has been that it 
was the position of Jefferson, not Adams, that showed wisdom.             

In 20th century South Africa, part of the argument of the ruling minority of 
whites was, in effect, that they were the ones who "give up a great deal of 
energy and time to serve" their nation, and that the black majority was not 
"well informed" and not deserving of the right to vote.  Many predicted a 
bloodbath if blacks were ever allowed to vote and control the government, but 
this did not materialize, like so many other predictions that an expanded 
electorate would lead to disaster.

                        "The members don't care"       
Another argument frequently made against OMOV is that most members care only 
about playing chess and will not take an interest in USCF governance and will 
not vote.  I agree that, given the opportunity, most members will probably not 
vote.  However:

1.  Any adult member who wishes to vote for the Executive Board should have that 
right. Whether or not others choose to vote is irrelevant; we are a democratic 
organization and that member has paid dues and deserves the right to vote.  
The argument that one should not be allowed to vote because he or she is part of 
too small a group of potential voters may sound ridiculous, but is actually
anti-democratic rhetoric that is centuries old!  Consider these examples.

In the early 1700s, Negroes who were not slaves were allowed to vote in Virginia, 
until the state legislature revoked this right.  In response to protests against 
this action, Governor Gooch said, "After all, the number of free Negroes and 
mulattos entitled to the privilege of voting at elections is so inconsiderable, 
that 'tis scarce worth while to take any notice of them in this particular."

In debate on a female suffrage bill in 1881, State Senator Howe of Nebraska said, 
"I am not acquainted with half a dozen ladies who would accept the suffrage if it 
were offered to them.  They are not prepared for so radical a change.  For these 
reasons... I vote no."

2.  Member interest in USCF governance is presently at a low level because few 
members are eligible to vote.  If the franchise is extended to all adult members, 
many more will become interested.  Presently, only about 530 members are allowed 
to vote, and about 450 actually vote. Under OMOV, will 1100 (the SOMOV turnout)
vote, or 5000, or 10,000?  No one knows, but any of these numbers would be a big 
step forward for USCF, as increased member interest should ultimately expand the 
number of qualified candidates.  Simply allowing this expanded franchise will 
make many feel more positive about USCF.

               Kona and Reno: "Give SOMOV a chance"
At the 1998 meeting of the Delegates in Kona and the 1999 meeting in Reno, the 
major argument made by the opponents of OMOV was that we had just given the 
members the power to elect those who would elect the Board (SOMOV), so it was 
necessary to give this method a chance to prove itself before enacting further 
reforms.   It was suggested that the members might now, by choosing the 
appropriate electors, actually be electing the Board, that this new process 
might attract many new candidates for Delegate/Alternate and interest many 
members, and that it might work so well that OMOV would be unnecessary. 
None of these things happened.  In most states, the number of candidates was 
the same as the number of electors to be chosen, hardly an exciting contest 
likely to arouse member interest in USCF governance.  Nationwide, out of about 
500 seats up for election, only four people were elected other than those 
nominated by their state affiliates.  The election involved very little, if 
any, campaigning or discussion of issues.  Under the circumstances, the voter 
turnout of about 1100 was respectable, but in its first test, SOMOV was a bust.  

      St. Paul: "SOMOV doesn't work, so neither will OMOV"
The opponents of OMOV had to make an important strategic decision for the 2000 
Delegates meeting at St. Paul.  The returns were in, and it was obvious that 
SOMOV had done little or nothing to empower the USCF membership or increase 
member interest in USCF governance.  Should they argue that the Delegates 
should avoid OMOV in order to "Give SOMOV a chance" again in 2002, or that the 
failure of SOMOV showed that OMOV would also fail?  They decided on the latter
strategy.  Apparently they were prepared to use any SOMOV outcome as the basis 
for an anti-OMOV argument-  if SOMOV is successful, we don't need OMOV, while 
if SOMOV is unsuccessful, this shows that OMOV will be too!

                   The Return of Senator Howe
Just as Senator Howe argued that women should be denied the right to vote 
because too few would  "accept the suffrage if it were offered to them," 
opponents of OMOV maintained at St. Paul that the USCF membership should not be 
allowed to elect the Executive Board because too few members would vote.  They 
pointed to the SOMOV turnout of 1100, about 2% of those eligible, and claimed
that in an OMOV election, even fewer members would vote because "If they didn't 
vote for candidates in their state who they know, why would they vote for 
Executive Board candidates they don't know."
This is an extremely weak argument.  Consider the following:

1.  USCF says it is a democratic organization, yet the position that a member 
should be denied the right to vote because not enough other members are 
expected to do the same is profoundly anti-democratic.   
2.  The SOMOV election for electors was boring!  Most candidate slates were 
unopposed, so very little was at stake.  An OMOV election for the Executive 
Board would probably have contested races for all positions, resulting in a 
turnout far greater than 1100.

3.  The SOMOV election for electors involved little or no campaigning or 
issues.  An OMOV election for the Executive Board would feature discussion of 
issues in election supplements to Chess Life and on the internet, as well as 
campaign appearances by candidates at clubs and tournaments, further increasing 
the number of voters.

4.  The argument that turnouts would be larger for local races ("the candidates 
they know") than for national ("the candidates they don't know") is refuted by 
government elections.  More voters tend to show up to vote for President than 
for Governor or Congress, and the lowest vote totals are usually in the minor 
local races.  The truth is exactly the opposite of what OMOV opponents claim. 

5.  The same people who suggested that we put off OMOV because SOMOV might work 
now argue that we must avoid OMOV because SOMOV does not work.  They appear to 
begin their analysis of OMOV with the conclusion that it should be defeated, 
and then seek reasons to justify such an evaluation.  Why do they fear OMOV?  
Is it really because not enough members will vote? Or is it actually because 
too many members will vote, and insiders who now influence a substantial 
percentage of the voters will have their power diminished?     

                            Name recognition
Redman says that under OMOV, "Name recognition, not constructive thought, will 
be the criterion for election to national office."  Will the overall membership 
be more likely to vote for a famous chess personality than an elite group would? 
Perhaps, but in a democracy that is their privilege.  Surely it is a gross 
exaggeration to claim that name recognition is all that will matter and
"constructive thought" will no longer be relevant.  

I have heard it said that under OMOV, Harold Winston, who was supported by most
"insiders," would not have defeated Yasser Seirawan in the 1987 election for 
USCF President.  I agree that Seirawan would have done better under OMOV and may 
have won.  On the other hand, in 1990 another GM, Max Dlugy, had most of the 
"insider" support and won overwhelmingly.  I believe that his opponent, Harry 
Sabine, was known by and popular with players in many states, and that under
OMOV he would have had a better chance and may have defeated Dlugy. 
I don't believe that just being a GM will make one a lock under OMOV, nor do 
many GMs want to be on the Board, nor is anything wrong with having a GM on our 
Board to provide a different outlook from the other members.   

                     "A disastrous split?"
Redman writes, "Direct election could lead to a disastrous split between the PB 
and the Board of Delegates, which is the legal corporate board of the Federation, 
and to contentious and acrimonious annual meetings resulting in paralysis."

Really?  The members elect, in effect, both the executive and legislative 
branches of government, and this means the two will be so dramatically different 
in nature that they will always fight?  This sounds about as accurate as the 
preamble to that 1430 British Act, which warned of "manslaughters, riots, 
batteries and divisions" unless the right to vote was limited to property owners.

                     "It favors rich candidates"       
The argument here is that under OMOV, only a wealthy candidate could afford to 
send mailings or make phone calls to 50,000 voters.  Actually, the current system 
gives rich candidates more of an advantage than OMOV would.
Presently, the candidate with more money can afford more and better mailings and 
more phone calls, and these may have a substantial effect, as all voters can be 
mailed to numerous times, and most voters can be called.
Under OMOV, with about 100 times as many potential voters, it would be 
extremely expensive to make much impact by mail or phone; most elections will be 
decided by internet and Chess Life campaigning.  A single mailing could cost 
$20,000 to $50,000, and calls would be even more expensive and would have to be 
made largely by surrogates.  Why would anyone spend that kind of money to become 
one out of seven on an unpaid volunteer Board, especially when there might be
a voter backlash against such excessive spending?

A multi-millionaire willing to spend this much to be elected could simply donate 
this money to worthy chess projects instead, a more constructive and probably 
easier road to victory.

                     Ownership and empowerment
Redman writes, "Most of our Voting members and Delegates are active participants 
in the state associations that choose them. Without the work of these volunteers, 
state groups would have a difficult time functioning. Without the feeling of 
ownership and empowerment in the affairs of the Federation that their voting gives 
them, and without the expertise they bring to their choices, both state 
associations and national federation will be impoverished."       

The feeling of ownership and empowerment is important, and this is a major reason 
why the federation will be strengthened when we reach out to expand such a feeling 
to as many adult members as possible!  Why does Redman seem to assume that 
expanding the voting franchise to others will cause our present voters to feel 
they are no longer part of the process?

                          State associations
In addition to his above references to state associations, Redman writes, "Direct 
elections will dissolve the traditional partnership between the national and state 
federations.  The state federations must have a say and a stake in Federation 

But the Delegates, selected by the state affiliates, appear to disagree.  They 
have since approved the principle that USCF members, even if not members of state 
associations, have the right to vote for electors.  OMOV is not threatening to 
take away the state membership requirement- it has already been removed by SOMOV! 
Most U.S. states abolished indirect voting by the State Legislatures for electors 
for President in the 1820s, feeling it was not necessary to shield the President 
from the direct will of the people. What is at issue now is whether we will stick 
with the election structure that our nation abandoned 170 years ago, or join 21st 
century America in which true democracy is not feared. 

In 1825, when the New York State legislature debated ending property requirements 
for suffrage, General Stephen Van Rensselaer argued, "There is in every community 
a portion of idle, profligate and abandoned men; and it is unjust and impolitic 
that this description of people should have it in their power to control the 
government and the property of the industrious, the virtuous, and moral part of 
the community."  

Redman makes a similar argument, with the current Voting Members playing the part 
of the "industrious, virtuous, and moral" who are "active participants in the 
state associations" and thus should be rewarded by being the only ones allowed to 
select our Executive Board.

                        The Chess Life argument
Redman writes, "The group in power will control, through the pages of Chess Life, 
what the members know about the organization."  This reflects an argument I have 
heard from others, that elections could be decided based on biased news coverage 
by our magazine. 

This has not happened in the past, and it was more likely before the rise of the 
internet provided a quick and inexpensive way to counter any inappropriate 
coverage.  Our editors have been consistently sensitive to the requirement of 
maintaining neutrality, knowing that any deviation from this principle will make 
them enemies who, even if not immediately victorious, are likely to imperil their 
jobs in the future.

                           Fear vs. reality
Most people tend to be conservative and resistant to change.  A major reason OMOV 
has been defeated in the past is that its opponents have issued forecasts of 
various dire consequences should it be enacted, such as "a disastrous split 
between the PB and the Board of Delegates," "contentious and acrimonious annual 
meetings resulting in paralysis," "dissolve the traditional partnership between 
the national and state federations," "an unfair attack on the volunteers who give 
up a great deal of energy and time," "lessened, not greater, accountability," and 
"name recognition, not constructive thought, will be the criterion for election to 
national office."  The Delegates have feared such grim possibilities and decided 
it was better to play it safe rather than risk real democracy, even though the 
experience of other groups using OMOV has been quite different than these 

In 1884, State Attorney General M.C. Brown of Wyoming wrote, "My prejudices were 
formerly all against woman suffrage, but they have gradually given way since it 
became an established fact in Wyoming.  My observation, extending over a period of 
fifteen years, satisfies me of its entire justice and propriety."  Despite this 
and similar statements by the Governor and others in Wyoming, women were denied 
the right to vote in most of the United States for another 36 years, until 1920. 

Just as the fact that OMOV works well for other organizations has been 
disregarded by the USCF Delegates, the majority of politicians in the U.S. long 
chose to ignore the lesson of Wyoming and subsequent female suffrage states and 
continue their traditional and undemocratic ways. There was actually a strong 
campaign in congress against the admission of Wyoming to the union because that 
territory allowed women to vote!

Following is a statement by U.S. Senator Joseph A. Brown of Georgia, made in 1887.  
The quality of his logic reminds me of that of some of the arguments made against 
OMOV.  "The ignorant female voters would be at the polls en masse, while the 
refined and educated, shrinking from public contact, would remain at home... The 
ballot will not protect females against the tyranny of bad husbands, as the latter 
will compel them to vote as they dictate... I also fear that wives will form 
political alliances antagonistic to their husbands, and the result will be discord 
and divorce."

As late as 1905, Grover Cleveland, a respected two term former President judged 
by historians to have done an above average job, wrote the following of the 
female suffrage movement: "To those of us who... cling to our faith in the saving 
grace of simple and unadulterated womanhood, any discontent on the part of woman 
with her ordained lot, or a restless desire on her part to be and to do something 
not within the sphere of her appointed ministrations, cannot appear otherwise than 
as perversions of a gift of God to the human race... The restlessness and 
discontent to which I have referred is most strongly manifested in a movement 
which has for a long time been on foot for securing to women the right to vote and 
otherwise participate in public affairs... It is a thousand pities that all the 
wives... cannot sufficiently open their minds to see the complete fitness of the 
homely definition which describes a good wife as 'a woman who loves her husband 
and her country with no desire to run either;' and every woman, whether mother, 
wife, spinster or maid, who either violently demands or wildly desires for women a 
greater share in the direction of public affairs, could realize the everlasting 
truth that 'the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."

The lesson of history is that for centuries, those who have campaigned to enlarge 
the voting franchise have been repeatedly proven right.  When we look back on the 
statements made by those defending the old traditional exclusionary ways, they now 
appear absurd.  

The battle to democratize our federation constitutes but a microcosm of a long and 
continuing movement for democratic change in the world, which inevitably will have 
a similar end as the struggles for representation by those without wealth, women, 
blacks, and the many other ethnic or religious groups that have been excluded in 
various places.  Since USCF governs only chess and not people's lives, we do not 
face the same great moral issue here, but democracy will nevertheless prevail 
before too long; it's just a question of when.  We have nothing to gain by waiting.

Let's take this historic step forward now, and send a dramatic signal to our many 
critics that USCF has fundamentally changed, that our membership finally has a 
real voice, that we are determined to project a more positive image, rebuild our 
membership base, and do more to popularize our great game.

If you will be at Framingham this August, please support OMOV at the Delegates 
Meeting.  If you are not a Delegate, ask your state association to appoint you in 
the event your state has vacancies.  If this does not work, you may be able to 
join the state association of a different state with a vacancy and represent that 
state.  If you cannot attend the meeting, you can help to enact this reform by 
urging Delegates you know to support it.  Thank you for taking the time to read 
this, and your interest in building a stronger USCF.

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