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{UAH} Growing UNAA's Membership Beyond Convention Attendance

Dear UNAA Members,

As we approach yet another UNAA election cycle, it is important to pause and reflect on the direction of the organization as it stands on the cusp of celebrating 30 years next year.

UNAA has consistently held elections every two years without fail, which speaks to its democratic credentials and the passion and involvement of its members.

UNAA then must continue to grow and expand its membership base by finding new ways and methods of recruiting and involving even more people while keeping the interest of the already existing membership. An important step was taken towards this direction when in 2010, UNAA members voted for a new constitution that sought to among other things delink UNAA Membership from the Annual UNAA Convention & Trade Expo attendance. 

One could now become a UNAA Member and exercise the rights of membership (like the right to stand for office) without being physically present at the convention where the biannual elections take place. It was always understood that in due course, other membership rights, like the right to vote without being physically present would be added as the organization's resources and capabilities allowed.

Such changes are often times met with a certain amount resistance - and even hostility from those members who don't adopt to change easily and yet for UNAA to continue to grow, it must constantly adjust to the times so as to continue being relevant to ever changing demographics.

Take for example in 2013 when an uproar within certain UNAA Circles ensued because a UNAA Member from Canada had exercised his constitutional right to stand for office even without being physically present at the UNAA Dallas, Texas convention. The misgivings from that episode from certain UNAA circles were enough for some to break away from the organization. While the majority have since returned, a few continue to hold out.

In January 2017 during the current UNAA election cycle, the UNAA Electoral Commission sent out guidelines stating that for the very first time in UNAA's history there would be voting even for those members who would not physically present at the September 2017 UNAA Miami Convention; for some of us who saw this as an opportunity to continue growing UNAA's membership, we were beyond ecstatic.

Fast forward to July 24th, and a miscommunication from the UNAA Electoral Commission gave the impression that somehow those who are not physically present in Miami won't be able to vote - as expected, an uproar immediately ensued within sections of the UNAA membership interpreting this as an attempt to favor one candidate over another for the UNAA Presidency. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Apparently the UNAA Electoral Commission found some glitches within the system as it was being tested. 

Anyone who has ever worked on any technology will tell you this is not uncommon, and after-all the very reason you do testing is to find glitches early enough to fix them. We should indeed be glad that these glitches were found two months before election as opposed to the day before or even after the election. The UNAA Electoral Commission must be applauded for their enormous courage and boldness in initiating online voting and thoroughness in testing the system. We remain hopeful that these glitches will be fixed in time for the September 3rd 2017 UNAA Elections. 

Let's now consider the following points that have formed the discussion:

1) One of the reasons advanced as to why we shouldn't have online voting was that how shall we be able to verify the authenticity, age and residency of whose who vote online? One solution is to request the would be voters to send in information (e.g utility bill, state issued ID) that ascertains this to the UNAA Electoral Commission and preferably they should have an earlier deadline to give the Commissioners enough time to verify and certify their eligibility to vote.

2) Some folks have argued that people would forge this documentation, but then I pose the question, with the current system what prevents one from forging IDs and have multiple people or those under age or those who are non residents of North America to vote? And the truth is nothing does; so online voting wouldn't inherently be more risky than onsite voting.

3) Another point of discussion has been that perhaps online voting should only be available to those who have previously attended a UNAA Convention before since we can verify their 'authenticity'? But I ask, is that fair to the thousands of our fellow members in our local communities whom we know very well, some who are our local leaders but because of reasons like family, work schedules, and perhaps costs are not able to attend conventions?

4) Others have further argued that online voting would attract those members who are just interested in voting and not actually interested in the long term welfare of the organization well after the elections? To those I pose the question how is that different than the current system where one could argue that it attracts members in a particular city who may not necessarily be interested in the long term welfare of the organization other than seeing one of their own residents elected into office. 

5) Online voting has the advantage that in addition to expanding membership to those who may not be able to attend a UNAA Convention, it depoliticized the decision of selecting the UNAA Convention host city in election years which has long been viewed as giving an inherent advantage to the local candidates.

6) One of the most important initiatives UNAA has ever introduced is the Chapter Development Program (CDP) introduced in 2013 which promised funding to the various UNAA Chapters for a minimum of $50,000 annually. If implemented as it was designed, this transformative program has the potential to grow UNAA's membership exponentially and would further be complementary to online voting. For example, the local chapters would be able to vote for their local council representatives instead of sometimes being represented by people who they don't know but those are the ones who happen to attend the UNAA Convention. Examples abound. 

7) At the heart of the matter though, is what happens if the UNAA Electoral Commission is not able to fix the glitches in its proposed online system? My advice would be that they should do whatever is humanely possible to ensure that those members who have registered are able vote even if not physically present in Miami, including exploring options like early ballot voting where they can mail in their votes. 

8) Some have suggested that those who have paid their membership fees and are not able to vote can have their memberships refunded. As well meaning as this offer is, it is as misguided as it is unconstitutional. Article 3.4 of the UNAA Constitution states that "Any Member may withdraw or resign from the association in writing at any time. However, membership dues and assessments shall be non-refundable." 

To not allow these people who registered with the understanding that they would be able to vote would be a grotesque violation of the trust that the UNAA Membership has in its leaders and institutions. 

UNAA members must know that they can always trust UNAA, that it's word is it's bond, and since the UNAA Electoral Commission promised UNAA members six months ago that they would be able to vote even if not physically present; a promise is a debt, and to go back on its word would do irreparable damage to UNAA's stellar reputation that has been hard fought and earned for the last three decades and cast an unnecessary shadow over the coming elections.

I am hopefully though, that that won't be the case because I know that the members who serve UNAA in its various institutions and especially the UNAA Board of Trustees and UNAA Electoral Commission are members of impeccable integrity.

As we continue to deliberate and and discuss as members who love UNAA, I know we all mean well for this organization and I hope this spirit of togetherness as one people bound by a common past and similar destiny continues to shine through. 

See you all in Miami!


Brian M. Kwesiga
Immediate Past President, UNAA

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