Voting by Electronic Methods During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Emergency
Clubs and regions that cannot undertake their regular methods of electing leaders and approving changes to governing documents due to cancellation of meetings or events may, as a last resort, use electronic methods of voting and meeting during the coronavirus/COVID-19 public health emergency.
It is important that as a group the club or region board are in agreement to pursue electronic meetings and/or electronic voting that may not be authorized in the bylaws. The board may approve these methods in the expectation the action taken will be ratified by the body authorized to do so at an appropriate time in the future. It is also important that boards authorizing alternate methods of meeting or voting do so with absolute transparency to their members. These actions should only be undertaken because of the emergency nature of the present situation in the Spring of 2020 related to the Corona virus/COVID-19 pandemic.
In agreeing to authorize and substitute an electronic ballot in place of a ballot that normally would take place at a meeting or event that has been cancelled, the spirit of your governing bylaws should be guiding the timeline and other key features of elections and the consideration of bylaws proposals. The club or region should observe all applicable steps, as far and as transparently as possible, to provide the slate of officer candidates and proposed amendments to governing documents.
For example: If your club or region provides for nominations from the floor for leadership positions, include a provision to allow members to nominate additional individuals as candidates, within certain time-bound requirements and to distribute that candidate’s information prior to the start of the electronic ballot.
Or: If considering changes to bylaws or governing documents, provide a method for members to ask questions and receive answers prior to the start of the electronic ballot.
How to Vote Electronically
Voting electronically means individual voters need to have access to Internet technology and email. Especially in clubs, if you have members who cannot use technology, your club will need to determine if you can provide a postal mail ballot to those members. This means you would be running a hybrid mail/electronic ballot.
- Determine the timeline to run your electronic ballot. This includes finding a member, or a committee chair (credentials, elections, nominations and elections, etc., as stated in your governing documents) to help pick the voting portal and set up the electronic ballot, and make sure all the other parts of an electronic vote take place—sending out the slate of candidates and/or proposed amendments, method and timeline for permitting nominations and/or proposed bylaws amendments from the floor, and timeline for questions/answers on proposals for which there has been previous notice. Have multiple people look it over.
If the club/region bylaws permit that emergency proposals may be brought to the floor for delegate consideration outside of the normal process, consider adding an amendment to permit electronic meetings and/or voting by electronic methods.
- Determine the credentials: who is entitled to vote. For clubs, it usually is all members in good standing. Regions that provide for more than one vote or delegate per club should have the names of the delegates by a set date. The individuals who are credentialed to vote should have an email address through which these members can be reached in order to send them the links to enter whatever electronic voting portal the club or region chooses to use.
- Make sure that the days you choose for the ballot to be open fits within the timeline of when you published/will publish the slate of candidates and/or proposed bylaws amendments. You may want to have the portal open/accepting votes on the day/s of the meeting or event that was cancelled where the voting was originally scheduled to take place. Most electronic voting portals will allow the automatic closure of the ballot at a predetermined time (you set this up when setting up the ballot.)
- Communicate to the delegates or electors when the electronic voting portal is open and be sure to tell them where they can look at resumes and/or proposals, and when the voting portal will close.
OR: Provide for a two-step notification. First step: let all delegates/electors know several days in advance when the portal will be open; make sure a link to all the resumes and/or proposals is included or there is information on where those materials can be found. Second step: send email to all electors letting them know the electronic voting portal is now open and when it will close.
- Once the portal has closed, the committee in charge of the elections retrieves the results of the ballot. Make sure more than one person is reviewing the report. Report the results as required in the bylaws.
Electronic Voting Portals
Many small groups use Survey Monkey for their elections. With a Basic Plan that is free, you can conduct a survey of up to 10 “questions”. You can also upgrade some of the basic features and pay by the month for Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey supports all the primary languages in SIA.
There are other electronic voting portals, such as eBallot, Survey and Ballot Systems, and Simply Voting (this is the portal SIA is using for the 2020-2021 SIA President-elect ballot). These are more complicated systems but are set up via a website. Please expect some costs—usually there is a set fee to use the ballot system, and there are usually additional costs based on the number of delegates and electors. With Simply Voting, you can also pay to have the ballot set up by their support group. Simply Voting also supports all the languages used in SIA for the voting process; however, the instructions to set up the voting portal are in English only.
Video conferencing is an effective way to hold virtual meetings when a group cannot meet in person.
One video conferencing platform is Zoom; it is available in all countries of SIA with the exception of Venezuela. Zoom has a number of plan options, including free (shorter meetings and smaller number of attendees) and paid (longer meetings and larger number of attendees) options.
- The regular prices of Zoom depending on the plan: https://zoom.us/pricing
- Coupons from TechSoup for 50% off of the regular market prices: https://www.techsoup.org/zoom
SECRET TIP: All members have to do is MENTION the tech soup coupon, and Zoom should honor the discount. It’s not necessary to pay the “admin fee” via tech soup to gain access to the coupon.
Other video conferencing platforms include Go-To-Meeting and Google’s Google Hangouts.
Voting during a video conference must be handled with care. For most clubs, all members are usually entitled to vote. If your club normally does a voice vote or a show of hands for voting, you may be able to replicate this in a video conference meeting. But if ballot secrecy is required, you will need to use an electronic voting platform.
For regions considering having a video conference meeting in place of a region conference, voting must be handled with great care if you will have both credentialed delegates who are entitled to vote and attendees who are not credentialed to vote in attendance at the video conference. The video conference platform will facilitate discussion of proposed bylaw amendments and budgets, and for candidates to give prepared remarks.
Some video conference platforms, like Zoom, permit polling to take place during meetings. You may need to set up a sub-group of meeting attendees in the video conferencing platform to undertake voting with the polling feature to ensure only delegates are permitted to vote. However, if you cannot ensure that only credentialed club delegates will be able to vote within the video conferencing platform, then you should plan on using an electronic voting portal to conduct the actual votes or elections after the meeting.