Attempts by the Sierra Club to stifle democracy
in the 1998, 1999, and 2000 elections


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Democracy and the 1998 Immigration Ballot Question

The Sierra Club has had a 30-year History of established population policy. Yet in 1996, the Board unilaterally reversed the Club's comprehensive population policy which addressed both the impacts of fertility (children per women) and mass immigration on unending U.S. population growth.
Subsequently, in 1998, SUSPS brought the immigration ballot question before the Sierra Club membership during the annual spring election. Sierra Club members voted whether to include reduction in mass immigration as well as in fertility in a traditional comprehensive Sierra Club U.S. population policy.
Unfortunately, in the opinion of many including the Club's Election Inspectors, the 1998 election was rigged by Club management with an "A" vs. "B" vote, violating Club bylaws. Indeed, many undemocratic things occurred in the Club in 1998. See this expository statement.
Even so, 40% of the voters agreed with the SUSPS "A" position. Quite simply, the Sierra Club ducked the population issue. (See more information and articles on this issue).


Democracy and the 1999 Board proposed bylaw change

In 1998, SUSPS sponsored a ballot initiative to return the Sierra Club to its traditional population population policy that addressed both U.S. fertility and immigration. This ballot question nearly passed, in spite of a rigged election, and the issue received considerable attention in the press.
Undoubtedly because of that success, in 1999 the Sierra Club's Board of Directors tried to cut back on the democratic procedures that have made the Sierra Club unique among large environmental groups. The Board attempted to pass a bylaw change that would have increased by 250% the number of signatures required to place a measure on the ballot, thus severely restricting the ability of members to bring forward new policy proposals. The ability of members to vote directly on Club policies would have been severely restricted if this bylaw change had passed.
"This is a real slap in the face at the Club's grassroots activists--the core of the Club's strength," said Dick Schneider, a member of SUSPS and a member of the San Francisco Bay Chapter's executive committee. David Brower and former Club director Martin Litton joined Schneider in signing the ballot argument against the proposal to increase the signatures required from 2% to 5% of the number of ballots cast in the last election.
In 1968, the Board made a similar attempt to raise the signature requirement to 3% of the votes cast instead of the current proposal's 5%. That change was overwhelmingly rejected by the membership.
"It didn't make sense then and it doesn't make sense now," said Schneider. "There have been only five votes of the membership on policy issues in the last thirty years. The answer to controversies in the environmental movement is open debate and fair elections, not a reduction in democracy."
See the pro-democracy ballot argument written by Dick Schneider.
In the annual Sierra Club election of 1999, members overwhelmingly defeated the Board's misguided proposal. See election results.


Democracy and the 2001 SUSPS Sprawl Ballot Question

In 2001, SUSPS introduced a Sprawl Ballot Question to require the Club to incorporate population growth as a component of its sprawl materials. The Club responded by forcing SUSPS to alter the wording of the ballot question.
Specifically, on the Spring 2001 ballot, over half of the wording of population-sprawl ballot question was simply dropped from the ballot to make the Club position look more favorable. An arbitrary preamble was inserted which reinforced the opposing ballot statement. Then, the ballot inaccurately says that voting for the ballot question rescinded existing Club policy - which was most certainly not the case. Here is more information on the Club's specific actions.


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