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It wasn't until I became more active in CSI that I realized the value of the offices of president-elect and immediate past president. The office of president-elect gives the person who is next in line a full term to serve on the board of directors and see how it works. It's likely that person has already served on the board, and probably was a board member when elected, but one's perception often changes significantly when faced with the responsibilities of the highest office. For the person who has not served on the board, the term spent as president-elect is essential preparation for taking the office of president. It's a time to learn who the board members are, how the board works, and what is expected of the board and the president. This is infinitely preferable to being thrust into the office with no idea what to expect. A president-elect who has used that term wisely is able to immediately take charge, and will have set goals and evaluated plans for achieving them. I have seen and heard of too many examples of presidents-elect who did not attend board meetings, and were relatively ineffective when they became presidents.
The office of past president also can be valuable. Having just been in battle, the past president can use the experience of the last term to provide assistance to the sitting president. No longer responsible for the final decision, the past president can be more relaxed when weighing options. Taken as a whole, the succession from president-elect through immediate past president provides continuity, and makes it possible to pursue activities that last more than a single year. However, as is the case with the office of president-elect, it is common to see past presidents take a lackadaisical approach to the office, thereby losing potential benefit of that office.
Which candidate should I vote for?
It's rare that a new member knows more than a few current chapter members, and rarer still to know members in other chapters. This makes it difficult at best to choose among candidates. We're all familiar with get-out-the-vote campaigns, which, if you think about it, make little sense, and do nothing to advance the organization. Encouraging voting by persons ignorant of the candidates may increase the number of voters, but it does not improve the chance of electing the best officers. For that reason, I did not vote for several years. Knowing the candidates remains a problem, though. The longer you're a member, and the more active you are, the more candidates you'll know. But in most cases, it will be the older members. Unless they've been very active - Cherise Schacter comes to mind - younger members become the unknowns.
Voting at the chapter level is the easiest for most members, as they are more likely to know something about the candidates. Voting for Institute candidates is facilitated by the information posted on the Institute website, and it's likely that active members will have heard something about Institute level candidates. Having had experience with only one region, I can't say much about region elections. Most regions, I believe, have officers elected directly by the members of the region. The North Central Region has a representative form of government; the chapters choose representatives to the region board of directors, and the board of directors elects the officers. I will say that, regardless of the level in the organization, most nominating committees need to provide more information about candidates.
Many years ago, a member suggested that if you didn't know which candidate to vote for, you should vote for the one with the best credentials, reasoning that the person with the most alphabet soup had done the most, and probably had the most experience. That is true to some extent, but it overlooks the promise of less well-known members. Another approach is to follow the lead of someone you trust, which at least is based on some degree of personal knowledge. Whatever your method, it's worth spending a little time to learn about the candidates.
Remember, you're electing the members who will decide the future of our organization.