Our Gem & Mineral Club initiated a president-elect position in 2008. The membership approved it and for two administrations all was fine. This last election a group of "unhappy members" presented a floor nomination for president. On the day of the election it was explained that there could not be a vote for president because he was voted in the previous year. This group is crying foul, saying that "they didn't know what president-elect meant" and the election was skewed because the definition wasn't given at the time of the nomination. Is there any merit to the complaint and is ignorance of the rules valid?
Ignorance or misunderstanding of the rules is no excuse. But this is a bylaw question and a question of what the rules actually are. This dispute is exactly the type of situation that can be avoided by clearly written bylaws, and can lead to litigation if they aren’t. (See Ready Reference Page: “Bylaws Function as ‘Constitution’ of Nonprofit Corporations” or listen to the Bylaw Webinars available in our bookstore)
Normally, a president-elect would automatically take office upon the completion of the president’s term, and you apparently have a couple years of precedent to confirm the members’ approval of this process even if the bylaws are not a model of clarity. But you ought to review what is written to be sure that it is clear to anyone who reads it. Most people won’t contest what is clearly written. But given an ambiguity or an error, they are much more likely to fight for what they want, whether or not it is actually justified.