How not to elect anybody to anything, but to keep it safe

This was a New Yorker article in July 2010. Writer Anthony Gottlieb was reviewing a book with the intriguing title “Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present.”  Something he told I found fascinating.

In old Italy, when the time came for the city of Venice to elect a new doge (think of a mayor with royal powers), the process by which the city officials conducted this election was something to behold. Tprocess involved seven steps.  Here was the procedure….

–An official went to pray in St. Mark’s Basilica. Along the way, he grabbed the first kid off the streets he could find and took back to the palace to pull out ballots from a box. Inside were the names of all the grand families of Venice. The child was selecting people for an electoral college.

–Thirty electors were chosen that way. Then, a second drawing reduced the number to nine.

–Those nine nominated forty candidates, each of whom had to be approved by at least seven electors to make it to the next stage. The forty were then whittled down to 12.

–Those twelve then nominated a total of 25, who needed at least 9 nominations each to make the list. The 25 were culled to 9.

–The 9 picked an electoral college of 45, each having at least 7 nominations. The 45 were whittled down to 11.

–The 11 chose a final college of 41 electors.

–The 41 electors proposed one candidate for doge of Venice, all of whom were discussed and some were examined in person. Then, each elector cast a vote for every candidate of whom he approved. The candidate with the most approvals won, but he had to have gathered in at least 25 of the 41 votes.

Got that? And we Baptists thought the SBC nominating process was complicated!

Gottlieb says they did it this way to safeguard the election from fraud. They wanted no backroom deals to corrupt their election.


How do you feel about the electoral college?  (I’m smiling, because I know how most people feel.)  After each presidential election in this country, the call goes up again for a change from this “antiquated, neanderthal system.”  The electoral college–firmly established in the American Constitution–calls for each state to elect the number of electors as they have senators and congressperson–who then cast the actual votes for president. We had a big furor about this in Washington D.C. this past January 6.  You might have heard about it; it was in all the papers.

That system, however, is not about to be changed and for two good reasons: 1) to amend the constitution, Congress has to pass an amendment which then has to be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures.  And those states are not about to ratify it, for the following reason.  2) If presidents were elected strictly by popular vote, the smaller states (i.e., with less population) would never again see a presidential candidate.  Those running for national offices would rightly decide that all they needed to be elected was to carry the major popular centers of this country, so who cares about Nevada, the Dakotas, Mississippi and Rhode Island?  So, as I say, that’s not going to happen.  In fact, we would not want it to happen.  As awkward as the present system is, it works.

How about how your church chooses a pastor?  Or its deacons?  My question is simply this:  DO YOU KNOW?  The answer to that question is found in your church’s constitution and bylaws.  Do you know where they are? Have you seen them? Do you have a copy?  You should.  Otherwise, when leaders either have never seen them or do not know how to access them or are not acquainted with their contents, all bets are off and a vacuum is there for some people to usurp authority and decide to make those decisions for himself.

Even if your church is doing great and there are no internal problems, you and other church leadership needs to be familiar with the constitution and bylaws.  In fact, this is the perfect time to check it out.  In almost every instance, those documents will need reviewing and updating from time to time.

This  week, a leader of a small rural church was telling me about the internal problems of their congregation and the pastor.  When I asked about a constitution, she informed me that there is one but no one knows where it is. And that it has not been updated in decades.  I did not say this to her, but thought to myself, “Your church is asking for big trouble, and you’re going to get it.”

First Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”  There! Some of us need a verse for everything, so there is yours.  (smile please)

You probably will not need a seven-step process to choose your leadership, but if that’s what it takes to get righteous people in places of service, go for it.

1 thought on “How not to elect anybody to anything, but to keep it safe

  1. I just read “Rethinking the Five Solae” by Jacob Fronczak, publisher FFOZ 2021. The chapter Solus Christus gave an extensive look at church administration through the centuries. I’d never thought about the significant differences between the various belief systems.

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