Be ready to vote, election leaders urge conference


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor 

Anyone familiar with electing delegates to General Conference of The United Methodist

Church knows the process can get rather drawn out. 

In years past, the Mississippi Annual Conference has added a day to the proceedings to allow extra time for selecting representatives to General Conference, held once every four years. 

Not this year. 

The 19th session of the Mississippi Annual Conference will meet June 10-13 at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson. That’s the same number of days as the past three years. Can the regular business of the conference be conducted along with elections in that amount of time? 

Two conference leaders believe it can. 

“I don’t think (voting over three days) will be that big a problem because of the electronic ballots and everybody being used to using them,” said the Rev. Andy Cotten, head teller this year. “We think we can turn around a ballot in 10 to 15 minutes. 

“You don’t want the balloting process to interfere with the business of the Annual Conference. It’s important, but other business has to be conducted.” 

Conference Secretary the Rev. Roger Puhr said the key will be for clergy and lay members of the Annual Conference to focus on the task at hand and pay attention to their votes. 

“This year it will be critical to get down to business and get it done,” said Puhr, pastor at Caswell Springs UMC near Moss Point. “Usually when we have an election we have four days, an extra 24 hours to make sure we have enough time to vote. This year we’re taking care of everything we usually do and voting.” 

If the 2006 session is any indication, the time period shouldn’t matter. That session of Annual Conference finished three hours early, a rarity. 

Members of the Annual Conference will elect eight lay and eight clergy delegates to attend General Conference, set for May 2008 in Fort Worth. An additional eight delegates from each group will be elected for the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July 2008 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. 

Thirty-seven laypeople submitted nominations for General Conference delegate, while all clergy in full connection in good standing are eligible for election. Candidates are elected by being marked on a majority of valid ballots cast. More than one candidate can be elected on the same ballot. 

The conference has 2,196 voting members, with equal numbers of lay and clergy members. 

The Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries, said he hopes the election carries a positive tone. “The tenor of how we do this is just as important as the other things we do,” he said. “I hope there will be genuine conferencing and that the delegation will be diverse in the true sense of the word.” 

This will be Puhr’s first election as conference secretary. His duties include helping make sure the voting runs smoothly, and then reporting the names of those elected to the General Conference. 

Cotten, pastor at Corinth First UMC, is serving as head teller for the first time. He previously worked with Dr. A.W. Crump, the long-time head teller. 

“He was always very calm about things; very patient,” Cotten said. “He wanted everything done properly. He would get the votes tallied properly and quickly.” 

The head teller is responsible for distributing the ballots, collecting the marked ballots, counting the votes and then reporting the results to Puhr and Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. 

Both men said one of the keys to having a smooth election is for voters to listen carefully to instructions and mark their ballots carefully. In years past, elections have taken longer because voters either marked too many candidates, too few candidates or voted for candidates already elected. 

“What I hope for is that everyone will pay attention so we won’t have invalid ballots,” Cotten said. “That’s what we shoot for. I can’t remember a count where we didn’t have at least one invalid ballot. We can’t guess what people are trying to vote for.” 

Cotten said he will have about 45 tellers to assist in the voting with at least two from each of the 11 districts. He also praised the contributions of the Rev. Keith Gaughf and the Rev. Tony Proctor who are in charge of the voting technology. They secure the voting machines and oversee the running of the ballots through the machines. 

“I couldn’t do this job without Keith and Tony,” Cotten said.