Southside Electric Cooperative, serving over 45,000 members in Virginia, had not run a contested election in several years. Their only requirement when elections are uncontested is to ensure a quorum is met which is determined by the number of ballots and proxies cast before or at the annual meeting. Southside Electric distributes ballots and proxies through their monthly magazine. Members are able to return a completed mail-in ballot or designate their proxy to another member to vote on their behalf at the annual meeting. Members may also vote in person with an onsite ballot at the annual meeting.
The many complexities in monitoring and tracking votes are significant. Calculations are based on returned ballots, designated proxies and who attends the annual meeting. On top of this, if a member attends the annual meeting to vote this would revoke the mail-in ballot or proxy. Handling this process internally always posed a risk that a contested election could raise concerns about voting being managed and tabulated by the cooperative. With so many moving parts, Southside Electric wanted a solution that would validate the outcome, ensure accuracy, and be 100% auditable under even the most complicated situations.
Working with Survey & Ballot Systems (SBS), Southside Electric Cooperative put in place an effective process that can accommodate both a contested or uncontested election. Even in years of uncontested elections, it is helpful for them to have a trusted election partner onsite to assist with registration, ensure quorum is reached and provide an additional level of validation to the governance process.
With members’ heightened awareness of voting rights and the importance of a solid voting process, working with a trusted independent-party like SBS “takes the pressure off the cooperative to validate the election”, says Jacob McCann, Director of Community Relations at Southside Electric. The cooperative principle of democratic member control is particularly important, and according to McCann, it is “important we show that this is taken seriously by our cooperative.”
SBS has been able to provide Southside Electric a very quick turnaround in the entire election process, along with assuring an auditable system for backup. This takes the pressure off the cooperative’s staff in needing to rush through counting ballots enabling them to focus on the meeting.