Commodore Steve Harris – September, 2017
BLYC certainly has the most unique election process of any Yacht Club, or any organization for that matter, with which I am familiar. For those who haven’t experienced the excitement of Club Elections weekend, we kick things off on Friday evening with Candidate’s Night — following a wonderful dinner at the Club, candidates for the Board of Governors, selected and approved by the Nominating Committee, will be introduced by their sponsoring Commodores and give their election “stump speeches.” On Sunday morning, candidates set up tables on the front porch and provide “brunch” for the membership. It’s always fun to see what interesting food items the candidates choose to help sway votes to their campaign. In the years I’ve been involved, I’ve witnessed everything from traditional breakfast items such as eggs & sausage, pancakes, biscuits & gravy, and pastries… to homemade chili… to hand-dipped Weldon’s ice cream! It’s always good food, a fun time to socialize, and, of course, a great reason to go to the polls and vote. This “porch picnic” and the polls are both open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Following the election and the counting of the votes by the tellers, the Club’s Annual Membership Meeting is held at 2:00 pm. Later in the afternoon, from 4:00-6:00, we welcome the new Commodore at a reception in their honor. What a full day! Exactly when and how each of these traditions began is not particularly clear, but there is some information available.
The first officers of the Club were elected at the organizational meeting held in Columbus on April 24, 1906. These officers were later confirmed by the membership at the first “official” meeting of the Club, held on Orchard Island, on Sunday, May 6. That fall, new officers were to be elected for the 1907 season. But the original Constitution did not provide a method for the election of officers so it was left in the hands of a nominating committee appointed by the Commodore. Nominations were taken from the floor at the Annual Meeting and a ballot, including spaces for write-in candidates, was later mailed to the members. It took nearly three months for all of the ballots to be returned and the results tabulated! While BLYC did not have the strong off-season program it does today, this left BLYC without any real governance for quite some time. Compounding the issue was the fact that several officers who were elected by write-in votes soon resigned their new positions for a variety of reasons. Obviously, this was not an ideal method for choosing those who would lead the Club. In 1909, the system was changed to one of a separate, secret ballot distributed and collected at the Annual Meeting in the fall.
In 1919, in what is presumed to be an attempt to be more efficient in collecting ballots and reporting results, the voting was moved to the morning prior to the Annual Meeting. Candidates were selected by the nominating committee and members were presented with ballots showing two candidates for each office. A copy of the first ballot of this type is on display in the Cupola room upstairs. There were two “tickets,” red and blue, perhaps modeling the two-party system we all recognize from state and national elections. It is not known if there were specific “platform” differences between the two tickets or not. But, given the tenor of the times, and having found some evidence that it was a contentious issue at the Club as well as in society, one might presume that the two differed in their stance on the prohibition of alcohol at BLYC. Whatever the differences may have been however, this change appears to have eventually led to what would later become the “weekend” of elections as we now know it. According to Commodore Armstrong in his 1956 book, Story of the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club, “torch-light parades had featured campaign demonstrations just before election day.”
Through the years, there were minor changes to how officers were elected, but the most significant came in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. On September 19, 1948, BLYC held its traditional “Trophy Night” for the season. Being on the eve of Elections and the Annual Meeting, according to Armstrong, “… the evening degenerated into a confusing babble of Campaign Night… which went on until well into the morning of election day.” Thus, what we now know as “Candidates’ Night” was born. The following year, trophy presentations were moved to earlier in the fall following the conclusion of the summer regattas, and “Campaign Night” was officially born as a separate event. At the Semi-Annual Meeting in the spring prior to the 1948 election, the decision had been made to change the terms of office from one year to two, transfer the election of flag officers from the general membership to the Board of Governors, and establish the nominating committee as existing of three members — one elected by the membership, one appointed by the Board of Governors, and one appointed by the Board of Trustees — as it is today. Given all of the changes, not necessarily popular among all members, Armstrong referred to this election as “one of the hottest campaigns in BLYC history.” In July of 1951, a special meeting was held and terms were changed back to one year — a change which would last nearly half a century. Our current system of two year terms began with the election in September of 1998. With “Campaign Night” well established, this tradition (later known as “Election Eve”) has continued for nearly 70 years. In 1993, the event was moved from Saturday night to Friday night and the name was changed to “Candidates Night” in 1996.
Exactly how and when the “Porch Picnic” developed is not particularly clear. Hopefully, over the coming years, we can uncover more information on that. But, regardless of it’s origin, it is a unique, fun experience and a great reason to come out to the Club on Sunday morning — don’t forget to vote!
The Commodore’s Reception as we know it began in the fall of 1999. Incoming Commodore Howard Clark wanted to do something nice for the members to begin his year as Commodore. He and his wife Rosa were very active in BLYC and quite obviously had a great love for the Club and their fellow members. Commodore Clark put on the first Commodore’s Reception at his own expense as his gift to the members. It was so successful that it was continued the following year by Commodore Nick Desantis and his wife Michelle. With each successive Commodore, the reception, too, became a Club tradition. Now, nearly two decades later, it has become a much anticipated, regular feature of the Club year.