Robert’s Rules for Absentee Voting Online

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP

When discussing Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure, the questions always comes up whether it’s okay to vote by email or by using a web-based service for Internet voting. The answer, as is so often the case with questions about parliamentary procedure, is “It depends.”

First, unless you make provisions in the bylaws for absentee balloting, the answer is “No.” The rule requiring that decisions in the name of a deliberative assembly must be made only by the members present in a properly called meeting at which a quorum is present is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law. To scrap such a rule in favor of voting absentee by mail, email, fax, or Internet requires specific authorization in your bylaws.

Robert’s Rules’ provisions for voting by mail emphasize ballot security and voting integrity; following Robert’s procedures for mail balloting do a good job of ensuring election security and integrity. Email voting is not as desirable as a substitute, but Internet balloting is fast becoming an efficient and less costly alternative to snail-mail balloting.

Email voting

Voting by e-mail, like voting by fax, is particularly problematic for a number of reasons. Although email voting might be workable with respect to small committees making some committee decisions, it is not recommended for use in the place of voting in meetings or absentee balloting.

The lack of security, including the inability to know whether a vote is cast by a legal voter, combined with the difficulty in managing the collection and tallying of the votes, makes email voting something to avoid at all costs. In any case, conducting any voting by email requires specific authorization in the bylaws, and you’ll also need to adopt some special rules and policies for your organization ensuring its use doesn’t create more problems than it solves.

Internet balloting

Internet balloting, on the other hand, has become an efficient alternative to mail balloting. Several Internet-based voting services now exist, offering levels of security and voting integrity similar to those of the voting-by-mail procedures. These services promise efficiency, automated result reporting, and a much lower cost per voter than snail-mail voting. Some of these services offer the option of preferential voting, which can be a real time- and money-saving method for conducting your elections.

If your group currently conducts balloting by mail, you might benefit from adding provisions in your bylaws to allow you to also use a secure Internet balloting system. In researching these services, make sure that the system allows votes only from the members you designate as eligible voters. Additionally, if you decide to go this route, you’ll still need to make sure that you provide your technology-challenged members the option to vote by snail mail using the procedures for mail balloting.