ICC's first foray into online voting struggles to gain traction
It was a good idea to use the International Green Construction Code as the first document for online voting since this is probably the least-used code. It also appears to be the code that receives the least input from the ICC membership.
The concept of voting online was to make the code-change process transparent. The process allows all ICC voting members to view changes on their own computer and vote within the first two weeks following the close of the annual ICC code hearings. Individuals enforcing the code and working for a government entity are allowed to vote on the ICC code changes. Honorary members of ICC also are granted voting privileges.
The way the process is supposed to work is members are issued electronic voting devices at the annual conference. These units are used during the hearing to cast votes on each code modification that received a public comment. (Code changes without public comments are automatically approved based on the Code Change Committee’s recommendation.)
At the end of the hearings, the cdpAccess website opens balloting to all other voting members for a two-week period. ICC sends notice to its voting members that online polls are up and running.
You may believe that the voting members who attend the annual conference can return home and cast another ballot again online. However, while that is permitted, only the last vote cast counts toward the total. This is the reason for the electronic devices at the annual conference: ICC can keep track of a member’s vote.
The ICC never really states what its membership numbers are. However, it is estimated there are more than 50,000 members. The vast majority of ICC members are governmental members who are entitled to vote. Hence, one would expect a large number of ballots cast during the online period.
You can register for the cdpAccess site and go online to check the final vote totals. ICC has to consider this first go-round a major disappointment. With tens of thousands of votes possible on each code change, the final numbers were pitiful. I could not find any total that exceeded 250 votes.
Tens of thousands of members in the pool and less than 250 voted. Realize that the 250 number is the combined total of voting at the code hearing and voting online. The online ballots were all less than 175.
ICC can declare the process a partial success, assuming it was hoping for online voting to change the outcome of some of the proposed code changes. There were five changes that were overturned by online voting. Changes that appeared to be approved at the final code hearing were eventually denied by online voting.
Only one of those changes was to the plumbing section of the Green Construction Code. A change to clarify the submetering requirements was originally recommended for approval by the Code Change Committee. Two public comments were submitted to further clarify where submeters are required. Because the change was further modified, the ICC process requires a supermajority vote of 66% in the affirmative. The change only received a 57% approval vote and was denied.
This exposes a quirk in the ICC online voting process. If this happened at the annual conference, a second vote could be taken to simply approve the original change as recommended by the Code Change Committee where just a simple majority is required for approval. However, that option is not available online. A member can either agree with the final vote at the code hearing or the change is denied.
If this seems unfair, it is. However, that is the only way ICC believes online voting can be successful. But, simply put, online voting is unfair in this case.
Bugs in the system
Three of the code changes overturned during online voting suffered the consequences of a technical glitch at the ICC final hearing. The electronic devices stopped working during the hearings. As a result, hand counts were taken for the final action and those hand counts were not added to the vote totals.
All three of these code changes could easily be appealed if the proponent is so inclined. The voting process clearly violated ICC policy on code development. There is nothing in the procedures that addresses electronic voting devices not working. Hence, hand voting is not permitted at the final action hearing. While this was an emergency step taken by the ICC staff, it is not permitted by the policy.
The final results did expose a problem with reliance on electronic devices. When they fail, the entire process fails. As a result, a code change is not receiving fair consideration.
While the members were encouraged to vote online after the electronic devices failed, it still resulted in an unfair final action hearing. One code change lost by three votes. There may have been enough votes at the hearing to result in a positive decision for this particular code change.
Fortunately, the failure of the ICC process happened during the Green Construction Code. If this occurred during the Building, Plumbing, Mechanical or Fire Code hearings, ICC would have egg on its face.
The ICC has less than a year to correct the problems. It either needs a more reliable electronic voting system or a backup plan if it fails. The final in-person vote at the code hearings cannot be neglected.
All I want for Christmas is an ICC voting system that works. Also, I hope that more ICC members participate in online voting. Otherwise, it needs to be scrapped.
I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. I also would like to thank all of you for reading my columns and this fine magazine over the past 20 years.