It was mid-July 2013 and an internal push by members of the National Atheist Party had seemingly been victorious, resulting in a party name change to Secular Party of America. An affirmative vote of 75% was needed to change the name. The name change campaign was led by a small yet effective group inside the organization, resulting in the creation of a new logo, Facebook page, and video ad supporting the change to the more inclusive party title. What was missing however, was oversight. The voting took place through SurveyMonkey, where supporters of the change, including those on the Executive Board, had access to voting results as they came in, rather than after voting was completed. Noticing that the necessary affirmative vote percentage was slightly below the required 75%, the Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing, Bernard “Flash” Kellish, began scrambling, devising a plan to stuff the ballot box to pass the measure.
According to A-News Reports, Flash enlisted Christopher Thomas, the party’s art director, to use fake email addresses to log into SurveyMonkey and push the vote over 75%.
It’s been almost two months since the vote “passed.” Over the past couple days, the story has broken and is spreading, and those involved have been placed on leave and/or stepped down. The party’s Executive Board is nearly a ghost town, it has no president, and arguably the most active leader of the party was at the center of this scandal. This is an organization with a stagnant membership who attempted a name change to promote inclusion and gain non-atheist members. Instead, in a dishonest effort to save the party, more harm has been done. Members and position holders are abandoning the party faster than leaders can apologize (Flash has not made a public statement as of this article). Members of the Executive Board are meeting behind closed doors in a rescue attempt that seems futile. The ship is sinking fast. But the question no one has asked is, did it need to? Did Flash fix a vote that didn’t need to be fixed?
As a member of the party’s blogging team, I was in daily contact with Flash around the time of the name change vote. I authored the script for, and appeared in, the name change campaign video and wrote an article announcing the name change when the results came in. When the original results were shared with my team, I corrected Flash regarding the percentages. He told us that 75% voted “Yes” but quoted 2 other groups, “No” and “Abstain”. The three groups added up to 100%, but they shouldn’t have. The abstentions should have been subtracted out of the vote total altogether. Instead, they were included as a result, effectively making them “No” votes, since they were not “Yes” votes. So the affirmative percentage should have been calculated as: Yes / (Yes + No). Instead, Flash (and SurveyMonkey) were calculating it as: Yes / (Yes + No + Abstain). From what I recall, there was a significant amount of abstentions, which would bring the Yes percentage down until it can be calculated correctly, something Flash did not do, and then reacted in haste.
So if Flash and other EB members calculated the totals correctly, there may not have been a need to show their true colors so early in the game. Now, not only can those guilty in this scandal wallow in their own dishonesty, but they can also feel dumb for not being able to calculate voting results correctly, ultimately changing the fate of their party.
The jury is out as to what will be done with this political organization still in its infancy and facing turmoil, but it likely will not be a positive outcome. The victims here are those who volunteered countless hours to a cause doomed for implosion by leadership with a lack of integrity. Politics is ugly and dishonest by nature. But when a political group like this one is rotten at its core, it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of those who dedicated their time and made sacrifices so they could volunteer for a cause they felt was noble.