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This page last updated 14 October 2007
Anglicans Online last updated 17 September 2017

How the Crown Appointments Commission Votes

by Simon Sarmiento, Anglicans Online UK-Europe editor


This article describes the unusual voting procedure that is used by the body that will nominate the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The membership of this body is described in Peter Owen's article Choosing Diocesan Bishops in the Church of England.

Much of what follows comes directly from the report Working with the Spirit: Choosing diocesan bishops, a review of the operation of the Crown Appointments Commission and related matters, GS 1405, a report to the General Synod published by Church House Publishing in February 2001. The Review Group that prepared this was considering, among other things, the constitution and methods of operation of the CAC. It made detailed recommendations to change the procedure that is described below, which applies to all episcopal nominations, and it also made further specific recommendations about changes to the membership of the commission when it considers the particular case of the archbishopric of Canterbury. As none of these recommendations have yet been implemented, as far as anyone knows this is therefore what will happen. The proposed changes to the procedure are republished at the end of the article.

The two-thirds rule
CAC Standing Orders state: ... If in relation to any matter a vote should be required, the question shall be put and shall be deemed to have been carried if at least two-thirds of the total number of the voting members of the Commission (without discrimination in respect of Orders) are in its favour, provided always that the person presiding at the meeting is satisfied that the vote in favour pays due regard to the opinions of the diocesan members.This is interpreted as meaning that each name submitted to the Prime Minister has to have received a two-thirds majority in a vote by the CAC’s thirteen (in the case of an archbishopric being vacant) voting members.

How the voting works
The voting is, according to the Perry report, carried out as follows. This is described as "custom and practice".

1. Creating a shortlist The names are reduced by discussion to a shortlist of between four and six. Before the voting begins, the Chairman asks the members whether they think that any name on the shortlist is so weak that it should not be included, or whether any previously excluded name should be brought back. This may prompt further discussion before a definitive shortlist is reached.

2. Establishing a first name In the first round, the members are asked to write down all but one of the shortlist names in alphabetical order. If a member writes down fewer than the number of names required, this is treated as a spoiled ballot and that member’s votes in that round are null and void. The voting slips are not signed, so this amounts to a secret ballot.

The candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and the process is repeated, without further discussion. This time, members again have to write down one less than the number of remaining names. The process is repeated until only two names remain.

The next time, the members write down one of the remaining two names. If one of the names receives 9, 10, 11, 12 or 13 votes, that name becomes one of the two names to be sent to the Prime Minister. If the voting is 7—6 or 8—5, there is further discussion. The members may be asked to bear in mind that the CAC is asked to produce two names, so that the candidate favoured by the minority could still be one of the two. If a two-thirds majority cannot be achieved, the CAC would have to adjourn and reconvene on another occasion.

3. Establishing a second name The same process is repeated from the beginning with all the remaining names from the original shortlist, until there is a second name.

4. Establishing a preference between the two names The two names produced by this process are both deemed to have a two-thirds majority among the voting members. No weight is given to the fact that one emerged first. A final vote is therefore taken by the same method to see whether one of the two names enjoys a two-thirds majority over the other. If one of the names is written down by nine or more of the members, the Commission is taken as having expressed a preference for that candidate and this is reported to the Prime Minister.

If the Chairman feels that there is a lack of enthusiasm about the two names which have emerged, he may (says Perry) suggest a second meeting of the Commission.

Some of the Perry Commission comments
Although the final vote in each of the two rounds is taken as being a positive vote in favour of the candidate with the most votes, this is in fact a system not of positive voting but of voting by elimination. A number of submissions have expressed concern about this. One said, 'We were frankly taken aback at the operation of a system of voting by elimination of which we were not formally advised.' A former central member commented: The members of the Commission can find themselves with a slate of names none of whom they really want to vote for. The procedure seems to produce rather weak results when there is a strong conflict over certain names and rather mediocre ones then tend to come through the middle. Another submission argued that 'in secular politics [an eliminating ballot] is used to produce the least objectionable candidate, rather than the most popular'.

Furthermore, because members are required to write down the names of all but one of the surviving candidates in each round, with the final vote being taken as a positive vote in favour of the winning candidate, there is concern that members of the CAC are in fact required to vote for candidates whose nomination they would not support. One witness told us: 'The outcome was that two candidates were nominated, neither of whom I supported but both of whom I had voted for.' We understand the desire to prevent tactical voting and to reduce the potential for deadlock which underlies the system of voting, but if members of the Commission are to be seen as, and feel themselves to be, co-operating with the Holy Spirit, it cannot be right for them to be placed in a position which might mean that they are obliged to vote in favour of candidates to whose nomination they would in conscience be opposed.

Perry Commission Recommendations (verbatim - still under consideration)

We consider that the present system of voting should be replaced by one which

  • is clear
  • at every stage involves positive voting rather than voting to eliminate;
  • does not require members to register a vote in favour of candidates to whose nomination they are opposed;
  • as far as possible makes use of the single transferable vote (STV) system with which members are familiar;
  • guarantees an opportunity for discussion and reflection between rounds of voting.

We therefore recommend that the present CAC Standing Order be amended to introduce the following system of voting (by secret ballot), which would be explained to members of the Commission in writing in advance of their first meeting:

  1. At the Commission's first meeting to consider the vacancy, it will have reduced the initial long list by discussion to a shortlist of five to seven names.
  2. At the second meeting, after discussion of the additional material circulated after the first meeting, the members vote by single transferable vote, using a printed voting paper, to reduce the shortlist of five to seven names to three.
  3. After discussion, the members are invited (but not required) to write down one of the three names. The name which receives the highest number of votes becomes the first name identified by the Commission. In the event of a tie, the vote must be taken again after further discussion.
  4. The members are then invited to write down one of the two remaining names. The name which receives the larger number of votes becomes the second name identified by the Commission. In the event of a tie, the vote must be taken again after further discussion.
  5. The Chairman then puts to the meeting a motion that the two names identified by the Commission be forwarded to the Prime Minister. The members vote for or against the motion by secret ballot. The Standing Order will require that ‘The motion shall be deemed to have been carried if at least two-thirds of the total number of the voting members of the Commission (without discrimination in respect of Orders) are in its favour, provided always that the person presiding at the meeting is satisfied that the vote in favour pays due regard to the opinions of the diocesan members and to the needs of the Church of England as a whole.’
  6. Finally, the members are invited to write down one of the two names. The number of members supporting each candidate is reported to the Prime Minister, and if one of the candidates is supported by two-thirds of the voting members of the Commission, the Commission is deemed to have expressed a preference for that candidate.

Simon Sarmiento, 22 February 2002

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