Regarding Governance and The United States Chess Federation

"The option before us then lay between an appointment by Electors chosen by the people - and an immediate appointment by the people. He thought the former mode free from many of the objections which had been urged against it, and greatly preferable to an appointment by the National Legislature. This Mode however had been rejected so recently and by so great a majority that it probably would not be proposed anew. The remaining mode was an election by the people or rather by the qualified part of them, at large: With all its imperfections he liked this best." [James Madison, 07/25/1787]


We in the United States live in a relatively democratic society. As an adult citizen your input is solicited concerning your leadership at the polls and is often solicited in many membership forums such as your professional organization, your church, or your union. You vote for your leaders individually and directly by their name.

The United States Chess Federation (USCF) is a national nonprofit membership corporation incorporated under State of Illinois law. The Illinois General Not-For-Profit Corporation Act of 1986 states that members of not for profit corporations have asserted rights, as such, in the nature of derivative rights of shareholders of business corporations. In this regard the main business of the membership is the election of its leadership, just as full shareholders do in business corporations. Thus if a nonprofit corporation establishes a membership structure in its Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws, then members of the corporation will be granted fundamental rights to participate in the affairs and future of the nonprofit corporation unless the Articles or Bylaws state otherwise. The USCF mission says it is structured to ensure effective democratic procedures in accord with its bylaws and the laws of the state of Illinois. The USCF has chosen instead to set up a system in which a small group of special electors are selected who are the only ones who can vote for officers who provide the leadership and oversight to the USCF mission. The system chosen emulates a parliamentary government model rather than a non- profit membership corporation model. We are told the primary goal of the USCF is to maximize participation in chess.


For decades the USCF has suffered under the governance of insiders. Regular adult memberships have stagnated for nearly 20 years; membership increases have been mainly in loss-making categories; constant financial crises and dues hikes occur against the background of a growing U.S. economy. USCF membership as a percentage of the US population by age structure continues to decline. A Harris poll indicates that over 25 million Americans know how to play chess. Yet the USCF struggled throughout the 1980s and 1990's at about 30,000 full adult members, no greater than at the height of the Fischer boom in the 1970s. Losses have been so steep that a treasurer studied the modalities for filing bankruptcy papers; the red ink often flows as it did last year. Chess Life regularly labors under budget cuts. The USCF never held a topnotch grandmaster tournament. The US Championship languishes in isolated hotels and college campuses. Little effort is made to foster chess as a national or international amateur sports competition. There are no high-profile media events. We don't know exactly how our dues money is allocated or spent to advance chess. Special interests prevail. Our best talents often quit in disgust. Most importantly, there is no clear-cut business plan, no strategic goals, and no accountability for meeting these nonexistent goals. The focus is relentlessly small-time.

Accountability is currently missing from the Federation governance process. Accountability of the Policy Board officers to the membership as well as accountability of the Federation Executive Director and staff to the Policy Board, all needs to be improved. Much more openness with the membership by its leaders is also necessary. In the best of the current system one votes for a set of electors which vote for the national officers who sit on the Policy Board. In the new and improved USCF governance system one still votes for a set of electors, which vote for the national officers who sit on the Policy Board. It is most important that the national officers be more accountable to the membership. Having a balanced Board is critical to its long-term success. Many of the problems of the Board are in simplest terms a direct result of a lack of balance in its representation. Those with state affiliate politics and tournament directing/promoting experience are considered the best qualified to lead in the current system. A similar group elects such leaders. Thus many perceive governance to be in the hands of a small, unchanging number of people. Efforts are made to control the succession of slates of allied officers by insiders and to have longer terms of appointment. Note the growth and popularity of chess is tied to chess as a sport and the growth and popularity of the Internet. It has to grow exponentially. People get mad at the USCF because it has incompetent leadership or poor customer service. Those are things that could change. If the USCF got better leadership or better customer service, the old animosities would vanish quickly. No system is in place to help find and encourage the best talent in the Federation to serve amongst its leaders. New blood in the leadership ranks and a diversity of ideas is desperately needed.

Officers currently are not chosen through an authentic democratic process. Campaigns are conducted via private phone calls among the "old boy" network and messages are often tailored to what the person on the other end of the line wants to hear. The quality of these campaigns is notoriously low, and the mudslinging is awful. It can be very expensive to run a successful campaign. Many successful businessmen take one look at the USCF political arena and decide they have better things to do with their time and money. Hence the same faces year after year involved in USCF leadership. Hence the radical under- performance of our elected officials, who serve without pay and abuse the perks. The hallmark of democratic campaigning is a common message that stands or falls in the public arena, not private campaigning.

The USCF is not a trade association, union, or government. However, the USCF is currently run as if it were some sort of national government. In fact its governance system appears to be modeled after the parliamentary system used in Great Britain. With this structure the focus thus has become on politics and not the USCF mission. Fragmentation, infighting, and patronage are common results rather than carrying out the USCF mission and the will of the membership. Those with state affiliate politics and tournament directing/promoting experience are considered the best qualified to lead in such a system. The USCF is not a government but a non-profit [currently 501(c)(4)] membership corporation and needs to be run like such a business. Previous experience running non profit charitable organizations, for profit corporations, or previous national officer/Board experience is much more important qualification to be successful in this corporate model.

The size of the electorate for officers is now kept under one percent of the total membership. Some insiders would like an even smaller electorate. Such a small electorate is easy to reach and influence. It is felt that electors need the opportunity to thoroughly know the candidates and understand the issues and thus keeping the group small is thought to be a way to accomplish this. It is assumed that such a small group will be well-informed and select good leaders. The current system has yet to validate this assumption. Some believe with a larger electorate the people who are really interested in advancing chess would lose some of the voice they currently have. However, larger groups actually do better at selecting representative leaders because personal relationships or special interests less influence them. The fact that chess organizers/state officials now nominate and vote for other chess organizers/state officials is the very type of tight knit and closed system that is considered problematic.

Very few will argue that the problems [or features] as described above do not exist within the current governance system. The issue is what to do about them. This discussion has been going on for almost a decade. One thought is to give recent governance changes regarding voting for delegates a few years to sort themselves out, and then in the future USCF members can try to elect delegates who would put reforms on the agenda and pass any further reforms over the next five to ten years. This may eventually work but we think that the crisis in USCF leadership may require more immediate attention. A NEW DIRECTION

Imagine a USCF Policy Board consisting of such individuals as Andrew Grove, Prema Mathai-Davis, J. Michael Cook, Laura Rossi, Garry Kasparov, Elizabeth Dole, and Elinor Ferdon. Imagine all that talent channeled to guide and advance chess in America. If you can visualize this type of Policy Board then the next step is to imagine what type of governance system would be necessary to attract, elect and support such talent on behalf of chess. It certainly is not the current closed system, but would be a more open and participatory system.

One Member One Vote (OMOV) is the idea that full members of an organization can vote for the national officers that represent them. Under OMOV you vote for your leaders individually and directly by their name. This is hardly a radical or new idea. Supporters of OMOV state that such a system will provide better accountability of the USCF national officers to the membership, more diversity amongst the officers and those running for office, and greater participation and interest from the membership than with the current system. This is backed up by real life impacts of OMOV in existing non-profit membership organizations. OMOV is more than a theory and does work in practice. There are many real examples of OMOV used in organizations.


The opponents of OMOV state that many disastrous things will possibly occur under OMOV such as elections costing too much to run for office, large groups of voters being easier to fool and having their votes bought, or only rich people with name recognition being elected to national office. Only possible problems are presented but with no solutions other than not using OMOV. These ideas actually come from extending the problems in the current system and just adding more people. These are all claims with no supporting evidence. The opponents have yet to provide examples from any other nonprofit membership corporation that uses OMOV where such problems have occurred. Most of the fears in our view are really that no longer can the insiders control who runs for office and they think the wrong people will be elected, people not like them. The type of Policy Board imagined above would probably be such an insider's worst nightmare.

Over the last decade the opponents of OMOV have rehearsed a bewildering and often contradictory array of arguments against OMOV. The perennial arguments are that it would cost too much and, in any case, would be difficult if not impossible to implement. Finally, we are told we should wait five or ten years to see how recent changes to the governance system work out before implementing OMOV, yet these changes address none of the major problems associated with selecting national officers.

Lesser arguments used in the past are that OMOV would result either in little change of officers due to lack of interest or too much change because of name recognition; that it would result in too little in-depth debate of serious issues or too heated and extensive debate; that it would lead to less democracy or too much Athenian style democracy; that there is too much apathy or too much potential interest; that a ticket favoring the dissolution of the USCF or, alternatively, its too rapid expansion could get elected; that there should be no poll in Chess Life because members naturally will support democracy, or because not enough people would respond, or too many would respond, thereby costing too much to tabulate the ballots. It was even suggested that under OMOV people like Bill Goichberg might become USCF officers [he has already been an officer several times under the current system]. One of the more humorous objections is that a national conspiracy by dozens or perhaps hundreds of fanatics could collect ballots from around the country and flood ballot boxes. No other non profit membership corporation that uses OMOV has these proposed array of problems that are claimed will occur in the USCF. Why don't we learn from others experience?


Rather than endless debating over imaginary problems it was thought it might be good to look at an OMOV implementation in another corporation. No other non-profit membership organization we can find has a system where you vote for special voting members who vote for officers. Actually, very few OMOV organizations have any campaigning outside their standard channels, most use independent election firms, and none use voter registration. This type of model has always been the one recommended. Since it appears that some want extensive campaigning but are concerned with the possible impact of such all out active campaigning under OMOV, let's look at an organization that encourages such all out campaigning. There are several good OMOV examples but we could only find one organization that has this type of all out campaigning.

The American Philatelic Society (APS) is a non-profit membership corporation [501(c)(3)] devoted to advancing stamp collecting. With approximately 60,000 members, 700 Chapters, and 200 Affiliates, APS is the largest, nonprofit membership society in the world for stamp collectors. It is supported entirely by membership dues, gifts and the sale of its publications and services. Founded in 1886, the APS is now in its second century of service to stamp collectors and postal historians. The Society is governed by an eleven-member Board of Directors elected biennially by the membership. Elections for these officers are conducted by mail-in ballot.

Historically the APS has been controlled by exhibitors (like USCF organizers) and judges (like USCF TD's) who played musical chairs on the board, but under OMOV has gotten more diverse as more and more members participate in the governance process. The recent presidential election was one of the closest races in APS history. The hard-fought campaign was the first to be waged extensively over the Internet, where the candidates posted their position papers, and issues were argued by members. The result was an election turnout of a 16.9 percent response from some 56,000 potential voters. It was a do-or- die contest for the presidential aspirants. They waged their campaigns with advertisements in the American Philatelist, the society's monthly journal (like USCF Chess Life), and in Linn's Stamp News a weekly publication for the stamp hobbyist (like Inside Chess).

In 1993, when all positions on the board were contested, it was the first year that pre-printed ballot envelopes were inserted with the ballots in the American Philatelist. The current election brought an infusion of new blood to the 11-member board as four new directors-at-large were chosen. The new board also will have more women than any previous APS board with four female officers. The winner for president said his campaign raised and spent about $10,000 and his opponent published he spent $5,900 (these costs are not dissimilar to current USCF presidential campaigns). The APS campaigning was mostly on issues and characterized as a high-minded campaign.

The type of people running for office this last year included: an U.S. State Department official; a philatelic publisher; a CBS radio producer; a faculty member of the School of Pharmacy at SUNY in Buffalo; an attorney for the Indiana General Assembly; a former civil rights worker; a TWA pilot; an University of Georgia faculty member; a California businessman; and a Philadelphia stamp dealer. It is important to note that other than the Presidency, even in the APS it only costs a candidate a couple of hundred dollars to run for office. This cost is also the norm to run for office under OMOV where private campaigning is limited.

It is important to note that the leadership of the APS as a matter of practice will formally solicit the input of the membership on important issues and will use the membership views in their decision-making processes.


In the September 1993 issue of Chess Life, the USCF President GM Maxim Dlugy wrote "I now favor the adoption of a one-member-one-vote plan that would provide you - the dues-paying members of our Federation - with a voice in our collective future. This proposal has been repeatedly defeated at the annual delegates meetings, and unless the general membership makes its views known, will continue to be defeated in the foreseeable future." Unless determined otherwise for good reasons, you have an asserted right to a system where all full adult USCF members directly vote for national officers. We feel the Federation's leadership needs to be directly answerable to the membership. Tweaking an old proprietary model of indirect elections for officers won't make that happen, what is needed is a well-established model for governance such as OMOV. This is an important step in the right direction.

The general membership (both current and future) needs to make its views known, so please voice your opinion in the upcoming USCF Chess Life governance survey. Also mail your comments to feedback_uscf@juno.com. As GM Larry Evans has noted: "No one has ever claimed that allowing the full adult membership to directly vote for their Policy Board is a panacea for all of the Federation's electoral problems, but why should the Federation be different from most other comparable membership organizations that extend voting rights to dues-paying members in good standing? How long will it continue to squander its most precious resource and best salesmen - its own members?" Only you, as a dues- paying member, should decide.

"Draney is right that OMOV is inevitable. All the haggling is over implementation dates." [Tom Dorsch, USCF Treasurer, 08/19/1997]

Proposed Areas of Revision to USCF Bylaws Supporting One Member One Vote

---- Article IV: Voting Members

Section 1.Definition. Each Life, Sustaining, Regular, Senior, and Blind member is a Voting Member during the term of his or her membership.

Section 2. Responsibility. The Voting Members are responsible for electing the Delegates who represent their state and the Policy Board.

---- Article V. Board of Delegates

Section 7. Delegates at Large. DELETED [as well as all other references]

---- Article VI. Electors

Section 1. Electors - The electors consist of the Voting Members.

---- Article VII: Policy Board

Section 1. Composition. The Policy Board shall consist of the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and three Members at Large elected by all Voting Members. All Policy Board members are national officers of the Federation.

Section 5. Nomination. Any adult USCF member shall be eligible for nomination to any elected office upon submitting to the Secretary by April 1 of an election year a valid petition containing the signatures of 25 or more Voting Members. No employee of the USCF is eligible to serve on the Policy Board. The Secretary shall have advertised a call for nominations in the issue of Chess Life published no later than January 20 of an election year and shall publish a list of all duly submitted nominations in the issue published not later than June 20 of an election year. The Secretary will pass all valid petitions to the Nominating Committee.

Section 6. Election of Policy Board Members. Each year, in which an election is to take place, ballots for a secret mail vote shall be inserted in the final issue of Chess Life, which is published not later than June 15. The ballots shall be mailed to an independent agency for counting. A plurality shall elect and the previous sitting President shall break any ties. Elections shall be held every even numbered year as necessary.

Section 7. Election of Policy Board Officers. DELETED

Section 8. Terms of Office. The terms of the Policy Board members shall commence at their first meeting, which shall immediately follow the Annual Meeting, and shall continue for four years except as provided in Section 11 of this article. No individual shall serve more than eight years on the Policy Board.

Section 11. Removal and Recall. Members of the Policy Board are subject to removal through recall by Petition for Recall.

Section 12. Petition for Recall. A petition for Recall bearing the signatures of at least three percent of the electors may be filed with the USCF Secretary, except that a Petition to Recall the USCF Secretary shall be filed with the USCF President. Upon certification of the petition, notice of the recall shall be provided to the Electors by mail and the Policy Board Member who is subject to recall shall have no less than thirty days to communicate his/her views to the Electors. At the end of that period a recall ballot shall be mailed to the Electors providing for its return within 21 days. The ballots shall be mailed to an independent agency for counting. The recall vote shall be approved by an absolute majority of those voting.

Section 13. Campaigning.

Free Candidate Statements. In the issue of Chess Life published two months before the issue containing the ballot, each Policy Board candidate is entitled to a free statement of up to 250 words in support of his or her candidacy. In the issue of Chess Life containing the ballot, each Policy Board candidate is entitled to a free supplement statement of up to 1,000 words in support of his or her candidacy. Materials to be determined may also be published on the organizations official web site.

Candidate Paid Advertising. In the issue of Chess Life containing the ballot, each Policy Board candidate is entitled to purchase up to one page of advertising to promote his or her candidacy, to be charged at the affiliate rate. No other paid or unpaid advertising in USCF publications is permitted.

Campaigning Limitations. Campaigns should provide a common public message. To that end public Internet debates among and individual postings by candidates and their supporters/opponents are encouraged.

Campaigning Ethics. No person shall submit for publication or cause to be published any printed paid advertisement promoting any person's candidacy in an USCF election without that person's consent. No member may make or publish any false, misleading, libelous or slanderous statements. No member may cause to be published or distributed any advertisement relating to an USCF election that does not include the name and USCF membership number of the sponsoring person or organization. If the sponsor is a committee or organization, the name and address of its chair or other principal representative must be included in the advertisement. No advertisement relating to an USCF election (or any envelope or wrapper therefor) shall include any name, abbreviation, device or address that will in any manner indicate or imply the USCF's endorsement of, or opposition to, any candidate. Any member violating any of the preceding provisions shall be subject to expulsion, suspension or other disciplinary action therefore by the Policy Board.

---- Article VIII: Other Officers, Appointees, and Committees

Section 3. Committees Appointed by the Delegates. The Board of Delegates shall appoint the following Standing Committees:

1) Life Member Assets Management; 2) Bylaws; 3) Ethics; 4) Nominating.

The Board of Delegates shall designate a Chairman and Vice Chairman of each Standing Committee, except that the Life Member Assets Management Committee and the Nominating Committee shall select its own officers. No Nominating Committee member shall be a member of the Policy Board.

The Committee may select a replacement for any committee member who has resigned or died between meetings of the Board of Delegates. A Standing Committee may select a replacement for any committee member who has resigned or died between Annual Delegates' Meetings. A vacancy in the Committee Chair shall be filled by the Vice-Chair. Members of Committees appointed by the Delegates take office on the first day of the month following their appointment. The Delegates may appoint other special or standing committees as needed.

The above was complied and submitted by Wayne Praeder. It is a composite of work by various authors. Here are links:

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: Sloan@ishipress.com