Last week we learned that a Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) employee urged a member-owner to fill out a proxy-ballot on the spot when she went to pay her monthly electric bill on July 1. This action is highly inappropriate and calls into question the fairness of the board election. In response, we have sent a letter to REC leadership calling on them to ensure the current REC board election is run fairly.
REC employees encouraging or suggesting on-the-spot voting at an REC office, without time to review all the candidate information, increases the likelihood of REC members signing blank “member-undesignated” proxies. This is of concern because the REC board has instituted an unusual election practice. It treats blank signed proxy ballots as votes that incumbent board members control. This gives board-backed candidates, likely fellow board members themselves, a massive head start.
A review of board elections back to 2010 shows the number of these unsigned proxy ballots has always been in the thousands, constituting more than half of all votes cast in each board election. The board’s control of thousands of blank proxies has changed the election results in two of the last three REC board elections (2016 and 2017), meaning that two of REC’s current nine board members won their election only because of the board’s using the blank proxies to change the election outcome.
REC staff urging member-owners to fill out a ballot on the spot and return it to REC contravenes the cooperative’s own balloting process. All member-owners received a postage paid-ballot in the mail at the beginning of July attached to Cooperative Living magazine. This magazine contains detailed information about each of the candidates so that member-owners can make an informed choice about who should represent them on the board. The magazine also explains how member-owners can get additional information and view video announcements from each candidate online. Member-owners may also vote online through the cooperative’s SmartHub online billing portal. REC hired a firm, Survey & Ballot Systems, to manage this election and collect mailed-in and online ballots.
We are calling on REC to disclose (1) how many proxy ballots it has collected at REC offices since July 1, (2) how many of them are blank proxies, (3) what REC has done and is doing with the proxies it is collecting, and (4) why it is circumventing the secure election process of having cooperative member-owners mail their ballots to a third-party vendor or vote online.
The unfair practices REC’s board puts in place are why it is so important you participate in the board election. You can mail in your proxy-ballot card in time to be received by August 19, or vote online through your MyREC SmartHub portal. Select candidates Andrea Miller, Michael Biniek, and John Manzari to bring transparency and accountability back to our electric cooperative.
If you have questions about the voting process, or had a similar experience of being asked to sign a proxy form on the spot when paying your bill at an REC office, please email us at: email@example.com.