One Member-One Vote? Not Quite

Forty years ago, members of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, or TYLA, made up 47 percent of total State Bar membership.1 Today, it accounts for about 25 percent.2

Recently, an age-related voter suppression issue has come to my attention involving alleged unequal weight given to TYLA votes cast in statewide officer elections. Our annual statewide election to determine the presidents-elect for both the State Bar and TYLA results in the winner of each automatically becoming a voting member of the bar’s board of directors3 for the ensuing three years.

The bar’s “governing documents”4 provide that the board of directors shall include, as voting members, the president, president-elect, and immediate past president of both the bar and TYLA.

In April each year, a single ballot is sent to all 103,000 active bar members containing names for determination of president-elect for both the bar and TYLA. However, non-TYLA members (currently about 75,000 members) are prevented from voting on the TYLA candidates based solely upon age and/or years of practice.5

This anomaly to the constitutional notion of “one member-one vote” results in an annual 2-to-1 voting advantage for TYLA members over non-TYLA members in statewide officer elections.

Because the TYLA president-elect serves a three-year term on the board of directors, TYLA, at all times, enjoys a 36-33 advantage over non-TYLA members with regard to elected board members.6

It is undisputed that all three TYLA officers serving on the board have never received a vote from a non-TYLA member.

Our equal right to vote in referenda and for candidates in statewide bar elections has been the mortar holding together the bricks of self-governance within our State Bar since 1939.

Accordingly, I propose that we return to the 1939 concept of “one member-one vote” as originally embraced by the State Bar Act.

There appears to be an easy solution to equalize the weight of all votes cast by all bar members in statewide elections. This result can be obtained by simply allowing all bar members to vote for the president-elect candidates in both the TYLA election and the general bar election.

I’ve been unable to find any prohibition in any of the bar’s “governing documents” that prevents non-TYLA members from voting in any statewide bar election, including those involving only TYLA statewide candidates.

Since we already distribute a single ballot to all bar members in statewide elections, this proposal would not have to increase the budget.

Finally, adoption of this solution would encourage member “participation” in all state bar elections as mandated by Sec. 81.0242 of the State Bar Act. I see no reason to continue to suppress the weight of one person’s vote—to the gain of another’s—where statewide candidates are elected to serve all members of the bar.7

This will be my proposal at the upcoming executive committee and board meetings in January 2019.

“One Member-One Vote.” Are you for—or against it? Please let me hear from you.

As always, I welcome your comments, remarks, and suggestions.

Joe K. Longley

State Bar President


1. Texas Young Lawyers Association, 1977-1978 Comprehensive Annual Report (Sept. 15, 1978).

2. State Bar of Texas Membership Data.

3. By law, the board of directors is the bar’s “governing body.” See State Bar Act § 81.020(a).

4. See State Bar Act § 81.020(a).

5. Texas Young Lawyers Association, Bylaws of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, art. II, § 1.

6. Due to this “one member-one vote” anomaly, a vote of a non-TYLA member is diminished to only 92 percent of the vote enjoyed by a TYLA member.

7. This adjustment could be easily accomplished by amending State Bar Board Policy Manual § 1.23 to mandate that “in all statewide elections, each bar member’s vote counts exactly the same as any other member.”

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