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CAS Elections Turnout

By Donald Williams posted 10-05-2020 13:23


“I don’t like Adams. Well, he’s gonna lose, that’s just defeatist.” Perhaps, like me, you recently heard these lyrics from Hamilton’s “The Election of 1800” either from watching it on Disney+, or listening to the soundtrack in the car…or the shower. Perhaps, like me, it reminded you of today’s political defeatism where many people end up voting for someone they don’t actually want, either because they don’t think their candidate of choice could realistically win or because they just want to prevent someone they like even less from getting into office. And perhaps, like me, you thought of the importance of voting in elections. No? Well, that’s okay, too. But I’m going there anyway.

Hopefully by now you’ve heard that ACAS voting rights were approved in this year’s CAS elections. I was shocked when I read Sarah Manuel’s “Associates Voting Rights: A Brief History” in the June Future Fellows newsletter and found out that this had been on the ballot before but didn’t pass even though it was supported by the Membership Survey responses and then the Associate Rights Task Force. The supporters just didn’t show up to vote. These results got me thinking about CAS election voter turnout in general. What do members turn up for? Much of the following can be found on the CAS site for past election results, which has some information on elections going back as far as 2000.

Over the last 25 years, there’s been a pretty severe decline in voter participation. From 52% of the electorate voting back in 1995, we went as low as 30% in 2014 and have been in the low 30s since, with just 33% this year. That may not seem like a lot, given that over 50% of eligible voters in the United States participate in presidential elections; however, looking at the SOA’s elections of Board members from 2017-2019 shows an average of 25% participation (though it is worth noting their electorate already included Associates of at least 5 years). Since the number of CAS Fellows and the number of ballots cast has been growing, it raises the question of whether it’s newer Fellows who aren’t engaging with the vote, older Fellows dropping out, or some combination of the two. Unfortunately, the voting is handled by a third-party administrator and we can’t tie recent votes to demographic information. The best we can do is look at a study from the 2009 election:

Based on these results, there seems to be a significant drop-off in voter participation after 5 years of fellowship.

A closer look at the numbers also reveals that some voters are leaving parts of the ballot blank. Each year, Fellows vote for members for the Board of Directors, the CAS President-Elect (when the election is contested), and occasionally other measures such as revisions to the CAS Constitution or By-Laws. Since 2002, no position or issue has received the total number of votes cast (with the possible exception of the Board of Directors, where you can vote for up to four candidates and it is difficult to translate votes into unique voters). The highest percentage in the available data is that 99% of voters casted a vote for the President-Elect during the contested election of 2002. You might think that such a high percentage of voters would indicate increased participation in the rest of the ballot, in which case you’d be wrong. The unique case of 2013 saw a contested election for President-Elect and a revision to the Constitution on the ballot. There was a bump in the percentage of voters marking a selection for the President-Elect (95%), but only 88% of ballots cast a vote for the proposed revision to the Constitution – not far from the 89% average for all proposed changes to the Constitution/By-Laws over the last 20 years. So, if you were one of the Fellows who filled out a ballot in a given year, what would cause you to make a selection for one position or issue and not the rest? CAS elections have been online since 2003, so it’s unlikely that a few extra clicks of the mouse are a deterrent. Is it too much work to differentiate candidates or investigate issues? Is it indifference – one candidate is likely as good as the next, or one issue is unlikely to directly impact you, so it doesn’t matter? Or do you truly have an issue with all options on the ballot and think that abstaining is better than settling? We may never know.

This part of the article is a call to action for you: future Fellows (and Associates) who will be eligible to vote in future CAS elections. In the United States, we’ve seen what happens when voters don’t show up. As actuaries, can we not hold ourselves to the standard of exercising our right and duty to vote as least as much as the average American? We know statistics and the dangers of small sample sizes. When we become Fellows and Associates, that increases our duty to the CAS; it doesn’t absolve us from it. Let’s make sure that we participate in surveys and elections as they come and eliminate participation bias, making the results reflect the true desires of the entire CAS community. And while you’re at it, those in the United States better vote this November in your federal, state, and local elections – all of them. Do your research and don’t leave anything blank. Don’t throw away your shot!