How to keep OA elections from being a popularity contest

expertlogo1Sometimes, when the votes are counted after an OA election, adult leaders are disappointed with the results.

Perhaps they feel a deserving young man wasn’t elected because he’s not as popular as the other boys.

Frustrating as it may be, Scouters aren’t permitted to adjust the results of the election. Instead, the secret to better OA election results exists in the days and months and years before election night.

Follow these steps, brilliantly devised by National OA Committee Chairman Ray Capp, to keep OA elections from becoming a popularity contest.

Bring in the experts

In his Ask the Chairman column, on the OA website, Capp suggests bringing in the unit elections chair from the local lodge or chapter. That, he says, is better than relying solely on the OA’s Electing New Members video.

“Nationally, many of our most successful chapters and lodges have noticed that this practice, especially when the Scoutmaster or Varsity Scout Coach is also invited to comment, makes those in the troop or team recognize the founding ideals of the OA and helps to take away consideration on other variables,” Capp writes.

Help Scouts meet the candidates

In that same column, Capp shares the advice of Tom Reddin, a 25 year veteran of the Order of the Arrow Committee.

“This has been used effectively in a number of troops and teams around the country,” Capp writes. Here’s the quote from Reddin’s essay:

Electing candidates from medium to large size troops and teams can be a challenge. The basic problem is that many Scouts, especially the older ones, don’t really know the younger Scouts and are reluctant to vote for them. This can be a significant problem especially with youth who are quiet and introverted.

Noticing their low election results, a number of Scoutmasters have developed a procedure to directly address this situation. It has produced significant improvements in the election results in these units. Some Scoutmasters announce the youth’s rank, number of nights of camping, and service hours as the names are read. Others include similar information on the ballot of names. Another technique is to print the individual Scouting record of each candidate, listing his name, grade, rank, number of merit badges, summer camp years, camping nights, leadership positions held, and special awards or events attended. Regardless of the procedure used, the purpose of this is to help the unit members know something about the candidates before they vote. It works and produces much better election results.

The Scoutmaster still decides the names to appear on the ballot, listing only those who have demonstrated Scout spirit and who meet the OA eligibility requirements. A Scout whose name is being withheld because of Scout spirit needs to be told why in advance. Also, some Scouts may not be interested in becoming OA members. The Scoutmaster should offer the eligible candidates the opportunity to “opt out” of being on the annual ballot prior to its printing.

Some key takeaways, because they’re worth repeating:

  • Unless you’re in a small troop, it might be helpful to give voters (the Scouts) some insight into each candidate’s qualifications.
  • You might include each candidate’s rank, camping nights, service hours, leadership positions and awards along with his name.
  • The Scoutmaster still gets the final say as to who appears on the ballot based on “Scout spirit,” but if you don’t put a boy’s name on there he deserves to be told why.
  • Always allow Scouts to take their names off the ballot if they don’t wish to join the OA.

“This procedure has been tried and tested,” Capp writes. “It produces 50 to 100 percent better election results and is worthy of your consideration.”

Start planning 12 months out

In another Ask the Chairman column, Capp contends that Scoutmasters and Varsity Scout Coaches play an important role in OA elections.

That role begins a year before OA elections.

“Our troop model won’t work for every unit but could serve as a template to ensure that the boys understand what they are being asked to do and grasp the solemn responsibility they have as voters,” he writes.

12 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Ask the elected and inducted Scouts who have returned from the Ordeal to wear their new sashes and give them a moment in the spotlight.
  • Meet privately with the Scouts who were elected and the OA troop representative and review what they think they heard, saw and learned.
  • Meet separately with the newly inducted adults (with the ASM adviser for the OA troop rep). Add in some longstanding adult members. Review the role of the adult in the OA.

11 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Schedule and conduct a casual Scoutmaster conference with the Scouts who were not elected and explore the reasons for that. If they want to become members explore ways they could show better scout spirit and get on a path to show leadership in the unit.

10 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Have every Scout in the troop attend the local OA crossover for Webelos who are joining the troop.
  • Have each one shake his hand and welcome the new Scouts in earnest.
  • Really stress the importance of making the new boys feel at home; have the OA members wear their sash to the crossover ceremony.

9 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Meet with the patrol leaders’ council; have the OA troop rep show them the chapter and lodge calendars and work to ensure that no troop events are scheduled in conflict with the OA events in the coming year.
  • Put an OA election on the troop calendar.
  • Hear a report from the OA troop representative about the events the OA has planned during the next year.
  • I also made sure that any Scout who wanted to attend ANY OA event had both a RIDE and the financing in place to participate.

8 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION, AT YOUR COURT OF HONOR (HOPEFULLY TWICE PER YEAR)

  • The OA troop representative gets up to give a report on activities, perhaps with a slideshow.
  • Invite a local chapter/lodge leader to speak about events.
  • Recognize members publicly.
  • Have the OA troop representative present the calendar of events for the parents.

7 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Connect summer camp promotion with OA success.
  • Be sure the Scouts see and recognize what the OA does vis-à-vis summer camp.
  • Work hard to get every boy to summer camp.
  • At camp, be sure OA members participate in the OA activities (for us, a Wednesday night cracker barrel and ice cream social). Be sure to explain to all the Scouts “where the OA kids went.”
  • For Scouts with 10 months of service, be sure they go through Brotherhood at camp.

6 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Review camping nights with the Scouts at a meeting focused on the outdoor program.
  • Pass out a sheet so they all know their record; let them know that the election is in 6 months.

5 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Have a night themed: Service to Others and ask each patrol to propose a service project for the whole troop.
  • Have the Scouts vote on the project they want to conduct.
  • During your Scoutmaster’s Minute at the end of the day, talk about cheerful service and add that, “this is what the OA does.”

4 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Talk to the Scouts about Scout spirit, why it is a part of every rank advancement, and why it is a threshold matter for election into the OA.
  • Ask the Scouts to come prepared at the next meeting to give examples of Scout spirit they’ve witnessed. Give them plenty of time to speak about what they’ve experienced.

3 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Review the requirements for election to the Order of the Arrow (if the troop has an ASM for OA to support the OA troop rep, have them talk about it). If the troop does not have an adult in the position, find one to fill the role.
  • Give examples of Scouts in the troop who have been active and show the boys the Journey to Excellence materials if the troop has not yet earned it.
  • Explain the requirements. Stress again the importance of Scout spirit.

2 MONTHS PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Confirm the election date with your chapter or lodge election team. Tell the Scouts it is coming up and when. Be sure it is on the troop or team calendar and to announce that only those present can vote.
  • Display OA memorabilia; ask all the Scouts to bring in and have a “show and tell” with their patches, photographs, and stories.

1 MONTH PRIOR TO THE ELECTION

  • Show the Scouts the ballot which will be used. Be sure the parents can see it via the troop website. Draw their attention to it. With many sets of eyes on it, errors can be found before the election, not after it!
  • Many times a Scout is overlooked because the others may not know him or his accomplishments. To offset this, some Scoutmasters announce each youth’s rank, number of nights of camping and service hours as the names are read for the election.
  • Others include similar information on the ballot of names. My technique was to print the individual Scouting record of each candidate, listing his name, grade, rank, number of merit badges, summer camp years, camping nights, leadership positions held and special awards or events attended. Regardless of the procedure used, the purpose of this is to help the unit members know something about these data points concerning the candidates before they vote.

What’s your advice?

How do you make sure Scouts understand their solemn duty when voting fellow Scouts into the OA? Let us hear from you in the comments.