Survey & Ballot Systems

The Election Experts

A blog on successful online voting, elections & surveys for member-based organizations.

December 2012

Is Online Voting a Good Fit for Your Association?

Posted by Peter Westerhaus

As we begin 2013, you might be in investigating additional ways you can connect members to your election process. One way you might be considering is adding online voting to your current election method. If this is the case, you will enjoy the article below that poses the question “Is online voting a good fit for your association?” Keep reading to learn more…

Associations rely on an active member base to stay vibrant. One key way that members stay engaged is through the power of the ballot. Whether it’s a leadership election or a referendum on a new policy, voting gives members an opportunity to shape their organizations’ future.

Americans are increasingly shopping, banking, and communicating online. This year, Internet use in the United States reached 245 million people — 78.1 percent of the population (Internet Users in the Americas, Internet World Stats, June 2012). With such a large percentage of people involved in online activities, it’s natural for associations to consider moving their elections online. Consider these facts:

  • Increasingly, associations rely on voting as a way for members to help guide their organizations.
  • Organizations must find efficient ways to execute voting and promote election participation.
  • A large percentage of members have access to the Internet and use online applications.

The table is set for online voting, but the question remains: Is your association ready for a web election? Here are three steps you should take to find out.

1. Review Bylaws and State Statutes
Can you legally implement an online election? First, check your state statutes. State law might define how your organization is allowed to vote, and electronic or web-based methods might not be included. To legally conduct online voting, your association may have to request a change to state law. If you find this is the case, don’t be intimidated – associations across the country have been working to update state laws to permit online voting, and many have succeeded.

Next, check your bylaws, which might specifically list approved ways for executing elections and conducting votes. Check your internal guidelines to ensure your election plans comply with your association’s internal policies.

Finally, consult with your association’s legal counsel for expertise and guidance throughout the process of adding online voting to your election.

2. Know Your Members
Demographics play an important role in deciding whether online voting is a good fit for your association. Chances are that not all your members are computer-savvy or have easy access to the Internet. Although 78.1 percent of Americans are online, there is wide variability based on age, education level, and community type.

Knowing your members’ demographics can help you determine whether adding online voting is worthwhile. An association comprised of young members might see online voting adopted quite rapidly, as 95 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds are online. However, an association with many older or rural members might have slower adoption of online voting because rural Americans have a 67 percent Internet usage rate compared to 81 percent for urban Americans, and only 42 percent of those 65 and over are online (Pew Internet & American Life Project 2011).

Knowing your members and researching your association’s demographics can help you determine whether an online component will work for your election.

3. Establish a Secure Process
When establishing an online voting system, the security of voting information and the protection of member data must be paramount. If something goes wrong, members may lose trust in the election process and the association itself. Whether you are hiring a vendor or developing a system in-house, don’t take security lightly. Make sure each member’s voting experience and personal data will be protected.

Be sure to address these key security measures when developing your online voting process:

  • Exclusive usernames and passwords for eligible voting members
  • Election website utilizing secure sockets layer (SSL)
  • Voting platform built on a modern web framework that ensures automatic updates and accurate data capture
  • Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagement No. 16 (SSAE 16) audit and certification to verify an auditable voting process
  • Backup plan, including an enterprise data center and data co-location
  • Quality control procedures, trial, and testing to ensure your system works properly

Online voting will continue to grow as a popular way of conducting association elections. By researching state statutes, understanding your membership, and determining whether you can establish a secure process, you can decide if online voting can work for your association.

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