Elections are often the culmination of extensive preparations and months of hard work to ensure voters have only a few steps to follow once voting commences.
Even under normal circumstances, hosting an election can be a challenge. But with much of the world turned upside down due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there’s no telling when member-based groups will have permission to host on-site elections again.
If you had planned on gathering your members for an in-person election it’s prudent that you consider alternative methods of voting. As these contests are mandated by law, simply skipping an election is not an option. While postponing it for down the road is plausible, it’s unclear when most parts of the world will emerge from the outbreak—making an on-site election a virtual non-starter.
Shifting to an online election or voting via mailed ballots are the two most feasible options, though the latter would prolong the process because ballots need to be returned and counted—which, even without restrictions, takes weeks to complete.
Since canceling an on-site election is a setback in of itself, transitioning to online voting would present the most cost-effective and expedient solution. If your members are working remotely, they’ve likely become accustomed to using digital tools for nearly every aspect of their lives. Casting a ballot online may be easier to comprehend than video conferencing and other services they’ve had to familiarize themselves with as our lives have gone digital.
If your organization has never participated in an online election, we’ll explain everything you need to know to ensure a smooth transition to a new election platform.
Benefits Of Online Voting
Transitioning to a new voting method can be stressful even in the best of times. But a reputable election management agency can make the change feel seamless, especially the ones that offer a variety of voting methods.
Online voting is increasingly growing in popularity because it’s considered one of the most secure, convenient, and cost-effective ways to operate an election.
Let’s briefly outline some of the benefits of hosting an online election:
With single-vote verification, real-time participation monitoring, and third-party audits vendors that offer such features ensure elections are tabulated accurately.
Voting members can cast a ballot from wherever they are, on whichever device they choose, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Electronic voting doesn’t require mailed ballots or delivery costs, allowing member-based groups to direct such expenses elsewhere.
Increased Voter Turnout
Due to its ease-of-use and general comfort people have with performing tasks via digital tools, online voting is often credited with increasing voter turnout, which is a top priority for almost all voting bodies. Social media integration also enables members to announce their participation and encourage others to cast a ballot.
Once voting ends, election specialists can immediately commence with the important business of tabulating results, as opposed to having to wait for mailed ballots to arrive incrementally.
A Step-By-Step Guide To Switching Election Methods
Among the first steps of any member-based election is managing a secure nomination process so all potential candidates can have a fair opportunity to submit their forms and be considered for the ballot.
Considering you’re switching election methods due to a public health crisis, it’s possible you already completed this step—and, if so, it puts you ahead of the game.
If you have yet to embark on this stage, that’s okay, too. An experienced election vendor can work with you to develop a strategy around nominating candidates, including providing a secure website that potential candidates can utilize to input biographical information, headshots, and any relevant information.
As we’ve outlined in our guide to nominations, members seeking an elected position can appear on the ballot either by volunteering, getting nominated or by petition.
To streamline the process, a reliable election management agency leverages software to manage nominations and/or collect electronic petition signatures, saving much-needed time for organizations already desperately playing catch up due to the pandemic.
Once nominees are generated, digital ballots are created and can be accessed via a secure voting site—either as an extension of your member’s existing portal system or a separate site. Enabling voting from your existing portal is considered the ideal option since members are already familiar with the inner-workings of the site. (For example, YesElections’ unique “Web-Bridge” technology enables it to connect a voting site with member portals.)
As with voting by mail or on-site elections, all ballots are secret, meaning nobody will ever know how a member voted—including the election agency managing the contest.
Here’s how this all works in practice: Each member will receive a set of credentials—typically a code or PIN—that’s unique to them. The voter will log in to the secure voting site using those credentials. Once they complete the ballot and click “vote,” their name will be crossed off the voter list. At that point, the member's vote is placed in a virtual lockbox, where it will remain until decryption is initiated. As a result, no further votes can be received from that member. The system is so secure that members are denied entry if they attempt to log-in after successfully voting.
Members can receive that all-important code, along with voting instructions, through traditional mail or via email.
YesElections' unique WebBridge technology allows it to create a virtual bridge linking its system with an organization’s portal. YesElections can embed a “Vote Now” link on the portal, which a member can click on and be directed immediately to the voting site. In this case, the member is not required to log in since they’ve already been authenticated as an eligible voter.
Security & Election Results
Aside from initiating a worry-free election and generating enthusiasm for every contest, member-based groups also want to ensure that results are beyond dispute. If all three goals are hit, then the organization and its vendor have done their jobs correctly.
While the public is constantly exposed to threats from the web, including financial hacks and other malicious attacks, the truth is the most pressing concern for member-based groups is the integrity of the vote. That’s why online election vendors invest in software that prohibits duplicate votes and guarantees results are 100-percent accurate.
As we’ve described in the previous section, single-vote verification prevents members from voting more than once. Also, secure nomination and balloting sites are an important feature of any online contest and should be a staple of any election management agency’s security offerings.
Depending on the vendor, participation levels can be tracked in real-time—allowing election specialists to count every vote as it happens. While this will mainly give groups insight into voter turnout levels, it’ll also help the agency monitor the election and identify any peculiarities.
And if you were hesitant to run an online election previously due to privacy concerns, reputable vendors should alleviate those fears by prohibiting data collection by third-party agencies.
As for results, an election that goes off without a hitch should produce incontrovertible results and provide a quick turnaround so you can announce the outcome as soon as possible. On top of that, vendors may go a step further and issue comprehensive reports and make recommendations to improve future contests.
Other Voting Options
As we briefly mentioned earlier, mailed balloting is an option for organizations foregoing on-site contests in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long-favored by voting bodies across the globe for their perceived security and dependability, mailed ballots also make it so groups can run a remote election while observing social distancing guidelines.
As in normal circumstances, members would receive ballots to their home address, which they’d complete at their discretion and return by mail. Other than potentially visiting the post office, members would generally avoid making contact with people during the election process.
The only potential drawback is expediency, as tabulating results will take more time than during an internet-only contest. For members wary about leaving their homes, voting online eliminates that hurdle, possibly making it the best option.
While remote voting may not have been your first choice, off-site elections offer few drawbacks. Sure, some members may miss the camaraderie and enthusiasm that on-site elections generate, but organizations are increasingly making it a point to put members’ health first, and remote elections ensure that, and more.
For more than a decade, YesElections has managed elections throughout the United States. Our investment in state-of-the-art security makes us one of the most reliable election management agencies in the nation. To learn more about how YesElections can help your organization, request a free consultation, today.