The most inclusive endorsement process ever

Elections matter. It's not just a slogan, and the last few years have shown just how true it is.

Look at Pennsylvania, where we went from one of the most anti-public school governors in the country to one who seeks our opinion and is working to repair the damage done, including addressing school funding issues and other issues that will move our schools and communities forward.

As we approach the 2016 presidential primaries, it's critical that we support the best candidate for our members and our communities.

Historically, the AFT executive council has endorsed candidates before the primary contests begin. This gives us the best chance to ensure we have time to educate and mobilize our members and the community to support the nominee. Once the primary process is over, our members will vote to endorse a candidate for the general election at the 2016 AFT convention.

And to make the best choice, it is critical that both our leaders and our members are involved in the selection process.

Beginning in February 2015, the AFT executive council resolved to seek input from our members and local affiliates on the candidates and the issues, in order to inform and direct the endorsement process.

Immediately after the resolution was passed, our staff and elected leadership began the process, inviting members to weigh in on the endorsement decision. Thanks to new technologies, we've run the most inclusive primary selection process in the AFT's history, and more members than ever have weighed in.

Through our 2016 election website, You Decide, thousands of members have prioritized the issues that are important to them and submitted questions for the candidates, and many more have found information on the candidates and the process.

In May, we conducted a major telephone survey, making more than 1 million calls to AFT members to ask about their top issues and which candidates they wanted to hear from.

Not surprisingly, the economy and public education topped our members' concerns. Members were clear: They want the AFT to support a candidate who shares our values. They want someone who will collaborate with our members and who will give us a voice not just on the job, but also in government. More than 75 percent indicated they wanted to hear from the Democratic candidates, and of those, 70 percent wanted to hear from Hillary Clinton.

And our members overwhelmingly support the AFT endorsing a candidate in the primaries.

To ensure that we were weighing all options fully, we opened the endorsement process to the entire field. In April, we sent a questionnaire to every declared and likely candidate, Democrats and Republicans. Any candidate who completed and returned the questionnaire was invited to meet with the council.

Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders took the time to return completed questionnaires, and all three attended and spoke at our executive council meeting in May. In addition to our elected leaders, we invited seven AFT members from around the country to meet and interview the candidates. (Read more about the candidates and the interviews.)

This is not a decision we are taking lightly. We've sought member voice online, through multiple member surveys and polls, through telephone town hall meetings, and in person at events around the country. We just completed a significant member poll with Hart Research, and while the results have not yet been fully tabulated, the top-lines are consistent with our previous survey and the input we've received online and in person from our members.

Our executive council members will take this input seriously as they weigh the choices before us. Our goal is simple: to make the best decision we can this presidential election to build a more powerful voice for educators, nurses, public workers, school staff and the communities where we live and work.

Our opponents are prepared to spend billions of dollars to elect a president who will break our union and undermine our members and the people they serve. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and let others define the debate.

While we will never outspend our opponents, we have a collective voice and energy that they can never match. We'll need as much time as we can get to build a campaign and raise that voice and energy.

If you still have questions or comments on the process, simply fill out the form on the You Decide page to weigh in. We take your voice seriously, and we want to hear from you.

To be among the first to hear election-related updates, text VOTE to 69238, and we'll send you breaking news about the endorsement and ways you can take action in 2016.