How Associations Run Elections

Although organizing an election may seem like a daunting task, following these six steps and adhering to applicable laws and regulations can ensure a successful voting process.

Thousands of organizations must observe election procedures to choose a representative body to carry out their respective missions. While managing a contest can appear to be a difficult undertaking, it only takes six easy measures to properly organize these all-important elections. 

You can accomplish your election goals by following these steps:

  1. Adopt a budget

  2. Schedule the election

  3. Nominate candidates

  4. Promote the contest

  5. Members cast ballots

  6. Finalize results

While it’s prudent to follow the aforementioned steps to improve your election procedures, it’s important to remember that every member-based organization is unique. Before embarking on your next election, make sure you’re adhering to all applicable bylaws and local, state, and federal regulations. 

Each type of organization, whether it be an association, cooperative, homeowners association, education association, financial institutions, pension/retirement system, or union, elects different positions and follows specific protocols. For example, trade and professional associations outline contest procedures in their bylaws while homeowners association elections are dictated by state law and union election procedures are controlled by federal laws.

To assist you in carrying out your association’s election, we’ve developed a guide identifying the general election process and the rules each association must follow. 

Chapter 1

How to Run an Election

Follow these six simple steps, which are applicable to every type of association election:


1. Set Your Budget

Organizations generally set their annual budget, which includes election allowance, long before the contest, so they must consider all factors affecting its price early in the process. These include:

A. Methods of Voting

An association’s choice of voting method is dependent upon their laws, affordability and the level of turnout they wish to accomplish. Options include:

  • Paper ballots are still hugely popular with most organizations. Paper is a traditional way of voting and easy to use. Most voters will agree that they are most familiar with paper balloting. However, this is the priciest option due to printing, mailing and postage costs.
  • Online voting is the most cost-effective option, saving members time and money by allowing them to cast their ballot on any electronic device, anytime, anywhere.
    • In hybrid elections, all voters can be sent a paper ballot, but have the option of voting online.
    • A composite election is a type of hybrid election in which any voter who has an email address on file will receive an email notification that features instructions to cast a ballot online. Those without  email addresses on file will receive a paper ballot in the mail.
  • Phone voting, although less common, is still a popular method for organizations who’ve had it in their past elections and who have an older demographic in membership.  A significant number of pension/retirement systems choose this method in combination with paper and online balloting. Phone voting can be expensive, and because it’s based on interactive voice response, voting on a ballot that contains many races and candidates can be a long and tedious process.
  • On-site voting enables members to cast a ballot in-person at a designated polling place. On-site polling can be done with paper (with manual or automated tabulation), or with touch-screen voting machines. One potential downside is accessibility because it requires traveling to the location during a limited polling time.

Check out our comprehensive guide to online voting.


B. Who will run the election?

Associations need to decide whether they want to organize their election internally or hire an experienced election services management agency. Depending on the size of the organization, complexity of the election, and budget, the association may consider engaging a third-party agency that will oversee the entire process, from the nomination stage to counting votes.

Check out our detailed resource:
What is a Voting Management System?

C. Security

Using an election management company ensures each vote is protected and that the integrity of the contest is maintained. Some of the most dependable features include single-vote verification, data protection, ballot secrecy, and a failsafe that protects against system-wide failure.


2. Schedule Your Election Date

After deciding on the budget, an organization should schedule the nomination process and election date. If you’re using on-site voting, schedule the contest on the same day as your annual meeting to achieve the highest voter turnout.


3. Nominate Qualified Candidates

An organization must decide whether they will accept volunteers as nominees, permit members to select candidates, or require interested candidates to collect a certain number of signatures to have their name listed on the ballot. These practices might be already dictated within your organization's bylaws. Associations can manage the nominations process in-house or hire an election management agency that will provide a software platform to gather, manage, and store biographies, as well as resumes, photos, signatures, and other relevant information all in one place so that election administrators can have access to view and edit the forms before applying them to the ballot materials.

4. Promote the Nomination & Contest

Advertising the nominations and election process guarantees members are aware of open positions, how and who can be nominated as candidates, the date of the election, and how ballots will be cast. Organizations should collect emails from members, send e-blasts, post content on social media, and list a calendar event on the association’s website. Some election management service agencies integrate their software with social media, enabling members to announce that they voted and helping increase voter turnout.


5. Conduct the Election

Run the election through whichever method of voting your organization chooses, either independently or with the help of an election management company.


6. Tabulate the Results

Manual tabulation of the results can become laborious, especially when an organization chooses to use paper ballots, hybrid, or composite methods. It’s best practice to employ a company with an automated process and double-checks to count ballots, providing efficiency and security.

Download our FREE Election Checklist.

Chapter 2


Associations are formed to further the interests of a particular trade, profession, or volunteer group.

In 2013, the Center for Association of Leadership reported there were 66,985 trade and professional associations in the United States alone. Some examples include the Foreign Policy Association, a nonprofit with a mission to encourage more awareness about the United States and foreign policy, the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing, a professional group for registered nurses in ambulatory care, and the American Horticultural Society, a member-based national gardening organization. 

These organizations serve as the voice of their members and often provide networking and educational opportunities, among other programs. To achieve these goals, associations elect board members who collectively manage the organization. In national associations, board members are usually elected to represent regions, while local organizations elect a single board. This board shapes the common vision and goals of the organization, assists in legal functions, builds membership, implements policies in accordance with the organization’s bylaws, and disseminates information to keep members up to date. 

Of course, associations vary in size and in their approach to elections. Typically, however, the election process is outlined in each group’s bylaws, covering everything from the nomination process and board structure to whether there will be voting members or self-perpetuating boards

For example, the School Superintendents Association has an election guidelines booklet outlining the election committee, the candidacy process for each member of the board, campaigning rules, the nomination process, and ballot requirements.

Chapter 3


Around the world, cooperatives (co-op or common interest community) bring communities together to work toward a common goal.

In fact, there are more than 2 million cooperatives serving a billion members and clients in 145 countries. Co-ops are so vast that they collectively employ more than 12 million people globally. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists three principles characterizing a cooperative: the user-benefits principle, the user-owner principle, and the user-control principle. Co-ops encompass various industries, including agricultural, business, food, housing, and also serve to fulfill specific purposes. 

A co-op board is elected to carry out the functions necessary to achieve its goal of creating the overarching vision for the organization, such as  hiring management, developing policies, and maintaining finances. The board also elects officers, including president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, and board committees, which deal with certain aspects of the co-ops responsibilities. 

Membership structure determines a board’s governance. 

For centralized cooperatives, which are made up of individual members and businesses, there’s a single elected board of directors that oversees operations. 

On the other hand, federated co-ops consist of other cooperatives as members—and each cooperative boasts its own board. Additionally, federated co-ops have their own board of directors, as well as hired management and staff. 

Last but not least is the mixed cooperative, which has a combination of individual and co-op members, each with their own voting rights. 

Each common interest community has its own bylaws by which it abides. Some states, such as New Jersey, Florida, and Nevada, have outlined guidelines for co-op elections to use when drafting their own internal election rules. 

Chapter 4

Educational Institutions

School Boards

From the perspective of a local community, there’s often no governing body more important than the school board. Parents are sensitive to their kids’ classroom performance, justifiably so, and elected board members are responsible for decisions about staffing, education departments and so much more. A board of education is made up of multiple members—including a president and vice president—who hire superintendents, adopt district policies and budgets, and monitor district performance. Members are residents of the district, so they are being selected by their fellow neighbors and community members. They also serve as the public face of a school district, meaning when an issue arises, or if there’s positive news to share, it often falls on the board to disseminate news to parents and the community. 

Elections for school boards are governed by state laws, which regulate the number of board positions, term limits, eligibility for candidacy, the nomination process, and method of voting.  

Learn how YesElections ran 38 elections for the New York City Department of Education.

Education Associations

Education associations advocate for teachers, college and university faculty, support staff, and retirees by petitioning local, state, and national lawmakers and negotiating union contracts, wages, retirement benefits, and healthcare. One example is the National Education Association, which serves approximately 3 million members, and fights on behalf of its members to improve achievement gaps, educator rights, affordable healthcare, pension protections, and union rights. 

These elections are governed by the U.S. Department of Labor union election laws

Alumni Associations

An alumni association consists of graduates of universities, colleges, sororities, and fraternities. Some of their more common responsibilities are hosting networking events, publishing newsletters, and raising funds. Meanwhile, these organizations, as with many other associations, are confronted with disappointing event attendance rates and challenges associated with leader recruitment and fundraising. 

Indeed, increasing engagement is top of mind for the majority of alumni associations. However, a quarter of groups polled acknowledge they lack an effective strategy to do just that. A reputable election management agency can assist in both increasing voter turnout and overall engagement—which could go a long way to boosting other initiatives as well. To organize elections, alumni associations must scrutinize their bylaws to ensure the contest is operating above board. For example, the University of Michigan outlines the board composition, terms of office, election schedule, and voting procedures. 

Chapter 5

Financial Institutions

Credit Unions

Similar to cooperatives, credit unions exist to serve their members. In the 57,000 credit unions worldwide, members combine their money to provide loans, create checking accounts, and generate other financial services. Credit unions are nonprofit entities that traditionally offer fewer options and locations than large banks but can provide users with better rates, among other benefits. 

While most credit unions share similar philosophies, they do differ in certain ways, including how elections operate. For modestly sized credit unions, members have the power to designate a board of directors. Members of more expansive credit unions elect delegates of specific regions who then vote for board positions. The voting process requires the credit union to follow its bylaws. 

The National Credit Union Administration Board adopted revised bylaws for federal credit unions in 2006. Credit unions outline the four voting options they’re allowed to use, nomination and election procedures, and candidate eligibility requirements. 

Mutual Insurance Companies

Mutual insurance companies are owned by policyholders and provide them with insurance coverage. The company is governed by a board of directors comprised of employees with management positions in the company as well as non-employed policyholders and directors. 

According to the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, election guidelines are outlined in each company’s articles of incorporation or bylaws.

Chapter 6

Homeowners Associations

Homeowners associations (HOAs) are composed of property owners who are required to pay dues.

In the United States, there are 347,000 HOAs, with 24 percent of Americans living under their regulations. In 2018, Florida (48,250 associations) and California (48,150) had the highest number of HOAs in the nation. 

Operated by community members, HOAs establish and enforce property rules, generally outlined in a document called the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). They handle the payment of taxes, contract for insurance and services for the common areas, prepare budgets, and conduct disciplinary proceedings against members in violation of the rules. 

Because homeowners associations are incorporated nonprofits, they are governed by state laws, however, some states consider condominium-based HOAs as separate entities with their own governing laws. In addition to the government regulations, the association will enact bylaws to outline how its board of directors will be elected. 

Chapter 7

Pensions/Retirement Systems

A pension and retirement fund contains invested employee contributions, which provide a monthly fixed amount after an employee retires.

Private pension systems follow the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, while public pensions are subject to state government regulations. 

The board of trustees serves multiple functions. This elected body oversees the retirement system, ensures legal compliance, maintains the budget, and achieves an investment return for its beneficiaries. Along with state regulations, these elections are also governed by organization bylaws. 

For example, the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund elects a 12-member board, six of whom are chosen by active teachers, one elected by the principals and administrators, three by pensioners, and two by the board of education.

Chapter 8


Trade and labor unions collectively serve 14.7 million workers and negotiate better working conditions in various areas of interest such as industrial, public sector, and manufacturing.

These federally regulated groups participate in collective bargaining and lobbying in support of their members. 

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) defines a union officer as “any constitutional officer, any person authorized to perform the functions of president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, or other executive functions of a labor organization, and any member of its executive board or similar governing body." Officers are elected by fellow members to manage union funds and property, file annual reports, recruit members, process arbitration and grievances, take part in political work, and retain records. 

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA) established the election procedure for private unions while the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 set the guidelines for public sector unions. However, unions made up of employees of states, counties, and cities are not subject to follow these acts, which provide minimum requirements and are supplemented by bylaws. 

Officers of a local union must be elected by secret ballot, but officers of a national or international union can be elected at a convention of delegates chosen by secret ballots. Unions are able to use any of the available voting methods, however, the DOL put out a request for proposal to gather information about electronic voting methods to later create guidelines.

No matter who the contest is for, YesElections has the expertise to manage elections according to bylaws and local, state, and federal laws across all states and countries.