Why Should I Vote In My Co-op’s Election?
Voting is nothing short of a hot-button topic. Whether it’s the Presidential election or voting for your favorite athlete to get into the All-Star Game, people are always quick to get to the polls. With so many big-ticket elections, it is easy to overlook other areas of our lives where your vote can make a huge impact in your day-to-day life. One of these areas is your local cooperative.
Co-ops play an integral part in many Americans’ lives, and you may not even know it. It could be the food co-op in your neighborhood, the company providing utilities to your home like electricity and water, and so much more. Being a member of a cooperative such as these entails so much more than having access to their services and paying a bill every month. As a member, you literally own a small piece of the co-op, meaning you have a direct say in its future and how it serves your community.
The Power of Your Vote
As a co-op member, your vote truly matters. That may sound cliché, but compared to major federal elections, your vote is more than just a drop in the bucket when it comes to cooperative governance. Cooperative members are often clustered within a relatively small geographical region, making it possible that your fellow voters are folks you encounter regularly- perhaps even your neighbors!
So when you think about it, your co-op is just as much of a member of your community as you are, and ensuring its success and longevity is incredibly important to your community’s well-being. In a similar fashion, the co-op is as equally invested in the health of your community as you are! This goes beyond its typical service provider role, as showcased in Indiana where Heartland REMC staff volunteered their time and bucket trucks to assist in the search for a young girl who wandered into a 300-acre cornfield on a scorching 90° day.
There are many areas where you are encouraged to voice your opinion and help guide the organization’s future, often through the power of casting a ballot. Some of those areas of cooperative governance are:
Your co-op’s bylaws are the foundation upon which the entire organization grows and flourishes. Ensuring that those bylaws are current and uphold the members’ best interests is a constant and fluid process that often requires regular, annual, or bi-annual votes.
Participating in a bylaw amendment vote is one of the most direct ways to influence your co-op’s future. We often see bylaw votes that revolve around modernizing business practices for the organization. It may seem minuscule to you but could make big waves for the cooperative, like adding an option for members to cast their vote electronically during the next annual meeting. A change like this is monumental in the co-op space, providing considerable savings to the entire organization while offering members an easy and modern way to engage with the co-op. Regularly reviewing bylaws and amending them when they are no longer current to the world we live in keeps the entire cooperative anchored to the present. If bylaws were never ratified by the membership you’d likely still have to send your co-op a fax whenever you submitted a service request form.
One of the most important areas where your vote can make a direct change within the hierarchy of cooperative governance, are leadership elections. A cooperative’s Board of Directors are the shepherds of the organization’s vision and long-term success, and you have a direct say in who is a part of this instrumental group. Depending on the governance structure of your co-op, voting may look slightly different from one co-op to another. Sometimes, the board members represent different districts of the cooperative, and at other times, they represent the entirety of the membership.
Voting by district means you vote only when your district’s representative is up for reelection, whereas at-large voting occurs when you vote for all directors, even if they aren’t from your district.
Regardless of your board structure, ensuring its members represent your views and initiatives is incredibly important. And you can do your part by voting for members that align with your values when board elections arise. Being active in this process not only allows you to be a part of the governance process, but it also ensures that your voice is heard when electing leadership within the cooperative.
Though not an overly common occurrence, cooperatives, especially in the utility sector, have been known to merge with neighboring co-ops. This decision is not something that is arrived at easily or without thorough analysis from both parties and is always done to ultimately bring value to the members.
An example of this is in the electric cooperative space, two neighboring co-ops may consider merging together to provide more affordable rates to their members. In addition, a co-op merger will help the newly formed organization gain efficiencies and control costs, attract and retain good employees, and continue providing quality services.
Now, these two co-ops may spend a few years negotiating, doing financial analysis, and organizational assessments to ensure a merger is feasible and beneficial for both memberships, but the final decision boils down to one event: a membership vote.
That’s right, the final go-ahead rests with you, the member! You may not be overly concerned with the actual merger itself, but participating in a merger vote can have a direct impact on your future utility costs.
Engage In a Way That Works for You
Not only is your vote incredibly important, but how you cast your vote is equally as crucial to your co-op. You might be someone who’s been a member of the co-op for over 30 years and prefer to cast your vote by dropping your ballot in the mail, or voting in person at your annual meeting. These methods of member engagement are the cornerstones of cooperative governance. If you have a voting method that you’re used to, no need to change a process that is tried and true.
Co-ops, especially utility cooperatives, have been experiencing a boom in membership due to first-time homeowners and families moving to their service areas to work in nearby metropolitan areas. This new wave of membership is creating new communication opportunities for cooperatives, especially when it comes to voting. This younger demographic may prefer to cast their vote electronically or receive election reminders via email or text message. If your co-op doesn’t already offer those methods of voting, you should let them know that you’d like more options for accessible voting.
Learn How Co-op Elections Are Changing!
Beyond the Ballot
Your influence as a cooperative member doesn’t just stop at voting; there are a myriad of ways to become more involved in your co-op’s community.
Joining a Member Committee
A fantastic way to have a hand in the future of your cooperative is by joining a member committee. There are a whole host of various committees and advisory groups composed entirely of members. Some common ones are centered around continued education and training, auditing, community engagement, cooperative governance, and many more.
Voicing your support for a candidate who shares your vision and ideas can be one of the most powerful ways to facilitate healthy change within a co-op. Whether it’s by supporting their initiatives in membership meetings or signing a candidate petition form to boost their chances of landing on the ballot, you can play a role in fostering positive changes. You can even take this one step further by running as a candidate yourself. Now this may sound daunting, but if you understand the needs of the co-op and your fellow members, it can be a very impactful way to be involved in the organization’s future success.
If you’re unable to commit as a volunteer by serving on a committee or as a board member, co-ops offer a ton of easy ways to stay involved! Finding the level of member engagement that works best for you is what’s important. Whether it be fun membership appreciation events, sponsoring local happenings like county fairs, or annual membership meetings; there are so many easy ways to engage with your cooperative and fellow members.
There can also be opportunities for the young people in your life to be involved! Some cooperatives, like Carroll White REMC have implemented a Junior Board of Directors. This is a unique opportunity for High School upperclassmen to have mentorship from board members, take part in community service projects, and learn about the finer details of cooperative governance.
At the end of the day, there are so many ways to have a direct impact within your cooperative, regardless of the service or utility it provides to your family. Many of those ways involve some form of voting, but as we outlined, there are also several other ways to get involved. Your cooperative thrives off of your engagement, and that engagement helps secure a promising future for the cooperative, and your community.
Cole Caldwell has been a Marketing Specialist at SBS since 2022. He holds a B.S. in Entrepreneurship from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Cole oversees company communications, branding, and product launches, making www.surveyandballotsystems.com the go-to source for governance best practices. He’s known for hosting educational webinars, presenting at national trade events, and publishing guides to boost voter engagement.