FALSE START #10 by David E. Ortman

[February 2001 National Masters News Reprinted by Permission]


All the hanging chads will have been counted , all the lawyers will have stripped down to their last briefs, and the Supremes will have sung and we will have a U.S. Presidential inauguration has taken place in January after all, although someone has reported a new book in the works: “The Bush/Gore Recount - The Early Years”.

But there are elections and there are elections. According to my last USA Track & Field membership card, "By signature below, I, a prospective member of USA Track & Field, agree to abide by the applicable USATF Bylaws, Operating Regulations, and Rules of Competition for my level(s) and category(ies) of membership."

At the USATF 22nd Annual Meeting November 29-December 3 in Albuquerque, NM, elections were held for National Masters Officers of USA Track and Field, Chair: George Mathews; Vice-Chair: Suzy Hess; Secretary: Bob Cahners; Treasurer: Frank Lulich with the last three positions unopposed. However, these positions are non-paying and require considerable time and effort, so hats off to those currently serving.

Just as voters seemed startled to learn that the Electoral College selects the President and Vice-President, masters track and fieldsters are often surprised to learn that membership dues do not allow you to vote in USATF elections, or proposed rule changes, unless you attend the annual convention and pay $145 in addition to travel and lodging. This is generally known as keeping voters away from the polls (only fifty-eight delegates voted in the Chair election). But it is legal because limiting members right to vote to those who attend the annual meeting is in the USATF by-laws, which can only be changed by, you guessed it, the folks who show up at the annual meeting.

As one USATF official has pointed out, "USATF really isn't a democracy. It's a lot like the US Government - a representative democracy. People on the local level control the selection of delegates, who vote at the national level. Even we don't have a true national popular election - it's the Electoral College."

Concerns have been expressed about turning elections into a popularity contest with campaigns and perhaps giving name familiarity an unfair advantage (although it didn't help Al Gore).

Some of the other barriers to direct voting include the fact that USATF mails out a thin publication ("Fast Forward") to members only twice a year. There are not enough issues in which to run an election and sending out special mailings would likely require an increase in membership fees. But, the agenda, proposed rule changes, and committee reports could be made available, either on a website, or in NMN, prior to the annual conventions.

Still, it is an odd way to run a membership organization, if you want to generate more interest in masters track and field. The National Masters News masthead says its is "an official publication of USA Track & Field and of the World Association of Veteran Athletes" but it is a separate subscription and does not come with a USATF membership.

USATF members are not asked for their input into budgets, or rule changes. For example, would masters accept an increase in memberships fees if they knew that the $30,000 Masters budget for 2001 is less than it was in 1994?

Perhaps most masters track & fieldster are content to pay their dues, run around in their underwear and have no say in how their sport is run. But perhaps not.

The 2001 National Convention will be in Mobile, Ala. At least, it's not in Florida.

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