Long-struggling advocates of democratic governance for the Pacifica Network and its member stations chalked up one more small victory last Friday with the expiration of the deadline for candidate applications for the upcoming board elections.
The election, which ends Feb. 5, resulted from a years-long battle over the future of the popular listener-funded Pacifica stations. When the smoke clears, the resulting new governance structure will feature a democratically elected advisory board at the network’s five members station: KPFA here in Berkeley, WBAI in New York City, WPFW in Washington D.C., KPFT in Houston and KPFK in Los Angeles.
Under the new model, listener members and staff will elect candidates to the 24 slots on each station board. Each of the five boards will then pick four of their own members to sit on the national Pacifica board.
Pacifica’s 53 affiliate stations will elect an additional two members.
“It’s democracy not in a passive sense but in an active sense,” said KPFA election supervisor Les Radke during a press conference to announce the elections Monday. Joining Radke at the conference were a handful of the approximately 50 preliminary candidates vying for a spot on KPFA’s board.
Though the station widely publicized the press conference, this writer was the only non-Pacifica reporter in attendance.
Radke said the structural changes were enacted to ensure that the station continues to model the type of progressive and democratic organization that has governed the network and its content since its founding back in 1946.
The latest round of changes were sparked when the old Pacifica board moved to consolidate and centralize power, prompting protesters to fill the streets outside KPFA and other member stations across the nation.
Listeners were outraged by policies enacted by a Pacifica board which announced its intent to “mainstream” local stations and their content. Specific gripes included the decision by the national board to self-select its membership, ending the long-standing process that allowed local stations to appoint the majority of the national board members. Protesters also complained of financial mismanagement and censorship.
The new structure, proponents say, ensures democratic oversight of all the network’s most important functions, effectively forestalling the possibility of another power struggle lead by the board. Nonetheless, they say they don’t expect the transition to be hassle free.
“I’m actually nervous. Democracy doesn’t solve every problem,” said KPFA General Manager Gus Newport, a former Berkeley mayor. “Hopefully [the elections] will open the door to new ideas and energy and accountability. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Organizers say they’ve tried to democratize the election process as much as possible by employing a “Choice Voting” form of proportional representation.
Choice Voting, they say, allows voters to rank candidates, preventing power grabs by monolithic slates by preserving minority representation. Instead of winning a majority, each candidate only has to receive a set amount of votes and is automatically elected.
If a voter’s first choice already has enough votes to win, the vote automatically transfers to their second choice, ensuring that the vote counts. If the voter’s first choice doesn’t have enough support to win a seat by the time the voter casts their ballot, the vote will automatically be transferred to the next choice still in the running.
At KPFA, 18 of the 24 slots will be filled by the 50-plus candidates who turned in candidacy applications. The remaining six will be filled by paid and unpaid staff. Only listener members can vote on the 18 slots and only staff can vote for staff. A 25th slot on KPFA’s board will be filled by someone from member station KFCF in Fresno. Eligible to vote are listeners who have pledged $25 or more in the last year or performed three hours of volunteer service at the station.
Around 110,000 ballots are scheduled to go out nationwide, of which 30,000 will go to KPFA members. The election is valid if 10 percent of the registered members cast ballots.
For more information about KPFA’s election contact Les Radke at 848-6767 ext. 626 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.