So, why the shift toward digital contests? Well, we’re going to get into that in greater detail below, but in short, most organizations appreciate providing members with instant access to ballots, and perhaps most consequently, associated reduction in election costs and increased turnout. Along with advanced security, privacy protections and precise tabulations, online voting is considered effective, secure, and significantly more accurate than other methods.
For organizations holding elections in the near future, it’s important to remember that deciding on a voting method is perhaps the most important choice you’ll make in the entire process. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider everything and anything about that particular type of election.
Most election vendors are equipped with their own software that essentially runs every aspect of an election, including recording votes and maintaining security. And one way election vendors can make voting easier is by providing voting access through a member-based organization’s existing portal.
In a world where people conduct nearly all of their affairs online—including banking, shopping, dating, accessing health diagnostics, and communicating with loved ones on different continents—member-based groups may be reluctant to add another layer on top of someone’s ever-growing online existence. However, permitting constituents to complete ballots through their organizational portal, which they’re already familiar with, eliminates the hassle of becoming acquainted with a new site.
The underlying software that runs elections is also what helps keep these contests secure (which we discuss in greater detail in chapter three).
Additionally, contemporary election vendors may provide social media integration. For example, when a member completes their online ballot, they’ll see social media icons for such sites as Facebook and LinkedIn—which the industry refers to as “social media buttons.” This gives voters the ability to announce that they’ve successfully and eagerly cast a ballot, and encourage their colleagues to do the same.
Sure, these modern tools may seem inconsequential in the grander scheme of things, but it’s important to remember that people have now conditioned themselves to almost reflexively share life events online—and voting is no exception. This deliberate public airing of life events is the equivalent of going to a family gathering and announcing a notable accomplishment, albeit with the potential for far greater reach. And it just might entice another member to do the same.
According to one of the few studies that analyzed Facebook’s early “get out the vote” campaign, researchers determined such engagement could have an impact on election turnout.
“Significantly if not surprisingly, the voting study showed that patterns of influence were much more likely to be demonstrated among close friends, suggesting that ‘strong ties’ in cyberspace are more likely than ‘weak ties’ to influence behavior,” The New York Times reported.
While motivations vary from group-to-group, among the most common explanations for trying to boost turnout is to ensure members are actively engaged and remain aware that their voices matter.
Online voting is particularly effective at boosting turnout, partly due to the inherent convenience associated with voting across various devices.
In many cases, members will have an option to vote on a computer, tablet, and smartphone, wherever they may be. Typically, that’s precisely the type of hassle-free voting experience members are looking for.
According to Nielsen, Americans spend nearly half their day interacting with media, including on smartphones, computers and other internet-connected devices. The increasing ubiquity of such devices, and our desire to devote even more of our time interacting with them, presents a unique opportunity for member-based groups who’ve been unable to previously convert members into voters.
And let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of grabbing the mail and throwing it in our own get-to-it-later piles. With online voting, members simply receive an email containing voting instructions, and can vote with the click of a button. Unlike snail mail, which easily gets lost amid the chaos of our daily lives, recovering the email is as simple as conducting a search of our inbox—if it even comes to that.
Beyond the obvious significance of elections, these contests also make it easier for organizations to reconnect with members. What does that mean in practice? Well, oftentimes groups will use the occasion to extend their gratitude, or make important announcements. Since online voting is known to drive greater turnout, your organization will likely have a much larger audience receiving your message. And at any rate, it’s always a good idea to remind members about the role you play in improving their lives, whether that’s advocating for them professionally, or handling responsibilities they’d otherwise have to take care of themselves.
Most credible election vendors are equipped with state-of-the-art security, including single-vote verification, a secure network to protect nominations and balloting, and redundancies in the rare case there’s an unexpected network error or outage. Basically, systems should be secure from start to finish.
Before any election can get off the ground, there’s a nomination period for members to select credible candidates. A trusted vendor can set up a site where nominees can upload images, bios and other pertinent material. Once that’s complete, ballots are designed and securely sent to members for a vote.
One major advantage online voting has over nearly all other methods is accuracy.
Here’s why: As with any major event involving hundreds, if not thousands, of people, mistakes are unavoidable. Unlike with paper ballots, however, internet voting eliminates the need for corrections if a member selects the wrong candidate or votes a way they didn’t intend to.
Also, a reputable election vendor should have a system in place to verify each and every vote. Single-vote verification is among the best ways to achieve this, because election specialists monitoring a contest are tasked with cross-referencing a voter’s ballot with a list of eligible voters to confirm they only vote once. After they’ve been verified as having voted, there’s no way a separate ballot can be attributed to them. Even if a member votes a second time (perhaps they forgot they previously completed a ballot), only the first vote would count.
Budgets are fickle things—you may think you accounted for everything, until an issue materializes out of nowhere, throwing your entire spreadsheet out of whack. If your elections have historically been too costly, internet voting may prove to be a saving grace, in more ways than one.
In the last decade alone, the price of stamps has risen by a dime, from 45 cents in 2012 to the current rate of 55 cents. Over that period, there have been increases each year, except for three, which doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping for a break at the post office in the coming years.
Depending on the election vendor, transitioning from mailed ballots to digital versions could create significant cost savings, as all communications would occur via email. Bulk mailings instantly become a thing of the past, providing unquestionable relief.
Eschewing paper ballots also means doing away with exorbitant paper costs.
Member-based groups understandably endeavor to maintain lean budgets, as they want to devote as many resources as possible to their constituents. But elections are vitally important, and the best way to earn the trust of the people you represent is to ensure elections are as seamless and trustworthy as possible.
If your organization has traditionally depended on paper ballots, transitioning online would seem to be a cumbersome task. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Dependable vendors use their expertise to perform a seamless integration, and are able to manage this first-time experience with little to no hiccups.
For those concerned about going entirely cold turkey, duel-method elections may be the answer. To simplify things even more, there are election vendors that offer different alternatives for those interested in multiple methods. One is a hybrid version, which effectively means all members will receive a mailed paper ballot, with instructions about how to vote online, if they choose. That takes us to what some vendors call “composite elections,” which means members with email addresses on file will receive online voting instructions, and those who are partial to paper will get theirs in the mail. Whether this is a smart alternative depends entirely on your respective organization. In any case, multiple methods may be the best way to incrementally introduce full-scale internet elections.
Typically, cyber elections give you the capacity to coordinate the entire operation under one roof. Nominations can be conducted over a secure site, ballots can be designed and distributed electronically, and voting can take place either through a member’s portal, or a third-party site.
Once ballots are filled in and returned to the election vendor to be tabulated, traditional paper-based elections can take upwards of a month to manage and finalize. Meanwhile, online voting is incredibly more efficient, as it reduces the time associated with calculating final results by several weeks.
Sure, we’re not all ready to completely embrace today’s instant-gratification society, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with obtaining results relatively early. After all, candidates would do well to know how they fared, so they can either move forward with their new obligations, or for those who came up short, put the election behind them. At the same time, organizations can get a head start on dissecting the overall election experience, and use any productive feedback to inform how they develop and manage future elections.
It’s true that humans are creatures of habit, but when something comes along that drastically improves how projects like these are organized, it becomes incredibly hard to resist taking a chance.
From streamlining nominations and the actual voting process to boosting security and improving accuracy, online voting has the ability to resolve many of the potential problems facing member-based organizations.
It’s become so popular, in fact, that it’s created a sort-of cottage industry of do-it-yourself programs enabling groups to host elections. Of course, once you run the “It Sounds Too Good To Be True” test, you realize such programs are okay for smaller organizations that have less than 100 employees and that the services they provide are unsatisfactorily barebones, compared to a full-suite of election tools and strategies professional vendors offer.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of internet elections is the ability to have choices. As we mentioned previously, there’s nothing preventing an organization from running an election online and through paper ballots concurrently. If a group is keen on slow-walking their way to becoming exclusively digital, introducing online voting to select voters makes that transition considerably easier.