In today’s world, there’s one main reason for using online voting: convenience. (Who wouldn’t want to vote from their living room instead of traipsing across town or across the country?) Plus, online voting increases the likelihood of member participation in a vote, and it may remove some of the stress that often comes with taking a consequential vote in a large group.
I know you’re thinking, let’s do this already. But before you press ahead, let’s talk a little about parliamentary procedure and legality.
Step 1: Figure out what laws apply.
Identify the state laws that govern your organization’s meetings. Chat with your legal counsel or check your articles of incorporation to determine your group’s legal status and which state’s laws apply. Then search in that state’s laws for statutes applicable to your kind of group.
Step 2: Find out what the law says about taking actions outside of a meeting.
This is the basic idea of online voting—you’re not doing it in a meeting. So look in the “Meetings” section of the state statutes (there might be a subsection titled, “Action without a Meeting”). Plan B is to check the “Voting” section, which may describe how to take a vote without a meeting, implying that doing so is fine. Here’s a few other tips:
- Make sure you’re referencing the statutory sections that apply to membership meetings, not board of directors’ meetings—two different things.
- If there’s silence on the issue, the law may be implying “no online voting.” But check to see if the law lets you include language in your bylaws or adopt other rules that would allow you to use online voting anyway.
- If the law allows action outside of a meeting only if everyone votes, you basically can’t vote online since getting every last member to vote is pretty much impossible.
- Mail balloting is not the same as online voting.
Step 3: Check your bylaws.
If Robert’s Rules is your parliamentary authority, then you need bylaws that authorize voting outside of a meeting. Parliamentary procedure likes people to be physically present for discussion and a vote, so if you want to let absent people vote, you have to say so explicitly in your bylaws.
Step 4: Make a plan!
If online voting is an option, make sure you’ve got all the details well-timed and organized before you jump in. Find a credible vendor who can ensure confidentiality and controlled access to voting programs. There’s nothing worse than generating negativity about a new idea because it’s poorly executed. (If you need to, be willing to just wait till next year. Seriously.)