Ken Howard and Esai Morales are vying for the presidency in first vote since the merger
Whether or not the presidential race delivers on the drama, there's sure to be a degree of suspense surrounding the inaugural SAG-AFTRA election: Will it come off without a hitch?
The results, which will determine who will head the newly-merged union during next year's negotiations on a new contract with the studios and TV networks, could be announced as early as 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
But the tabulation of the ballots, which were mailed out on July 16, will be uncharted territory for the union, which now has more than 160,000 members. SAG-AFTRA spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt cautioned that the counting could go into the evening.
Results of the voting in the Los Angeles local, whose members make up about half of the union's membership, and New York local elections will also be announced at the same time. Schedules vary for other local elections, and several have already been announced.
Ken Howard, the union's current co-president, is running for the top spot against national board member Esai Morales. SAG's Howard and AFTRA's Roberta Reardon have been co-presidents since March of last year, when members approved the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Howard, who was elected in 2009 as the 25th and final president of SAG, heads the union's Unite For Strength slate. He and that group were strong advocates for merger, while Morales and his Membership First allies campaigned strongly against it.
Howard has the edge in most observers' eyes, given his incumbency and the vote on the merger, which passed with a whopping 86 percent of the votes. National secretary-treasurer candidates are current co-secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino, who is aligned with Howard, and stuntwoman Jane Austin, who is backing Morales.
Reardon, the former AFTRA president who is currently serving as co-president with Howard, is running for president of the N.Y. local. But she also has her eye on the national executive vice-president position, which will be chosen by delegates at the union's convention.
That's a potentially powerful position, which would make Reardon the chief operative for the president. If Howard wins, it would essentially put those two at the top again.
Reardon is running against fellow merger-supporter Mike Hodge, who will be seeking his third consecutive term atop the local, and tops a slate of United Screen Actors Nationwide. Howard has endorsed Hodge.
Besides the president and secretary-treasurer, the contests will determine most members of a new 70-seat national board along with delegates to the first SAG-AFTRA convention — where the exec VP and seven other VPs will be elected in late September.