In-house Versus Outsourced Election Administration

November 7th, 2018 by David Simms

Categorized as: Other

In-house Election Management

Election administration is the process of setting up the ballot; ensuring candidate biographical information, when applicable, is loaded into the system; associating a voter roster with the election; testing the setup to ensure everything works as expected; running the election; and retrieving the results at the end. The occasional prospective client will sometimes approach ElectionsOnline to ask what it would cost to have all that done for them under the mistaken belief that election administration is either burdensome or that the integrity of the election may only be preserved when in the hands of a third-party. 

The Case for Self-Administration

If your organization has historically been hands off when conducting elections in order to cast the perception that internal staff is not in a position to tamper with things, it may be time to reconsider that practice. Using the ElectionsOnline system, an election administrator may not see the results until the end of the election. This is by design as explained at Candidate Names Obfuscated Until Election Closes and is one measure in place to ensure the integrity of an election. Election managers have no means by which to alter a ballot once it’s in the system, nor may they submit ballots into the system casting votes for a preferred candidate without it creating an audit trail that shows up on the results report.

With concerns regarding election integrity having already been addressed by the system, the next question is are there other advantages to a client administering internally versus outsourcing to a vendor, and the answer is a resounding yes. A vendor does not know the positions that need to appear on your ballot. They do not know the names of the candidates contesting those positions and certainly don’t possess their biographical information. They don’t know the voting rules for each position or election dates. It would be up to you to provide all these things to them which you would likely do by describing it all in a very lengthy document or email. Once an administrator receives your materials, they’d have to read through it; come back with multiple rounds of questions; get everything entered into the system; go back and forth tweaking this or that little thing based on client feedback; then engage with you testing before the election begins.

Or, you could do considerably less typing and enter all that directly into the ElectionsOnline setup wizard; be done with it; head to happy hour!

The point here is that the actual ballot setup is not the burdensome part of administering an election. It’s actually the simplest part there is! No time is saved by offloading it to someone else, but the back and forth with a vendor that’s needed to make sure everything is as it should be will create burden where there is none to begin with. There are certain aspects of administering an election you simply can’t get away from such as:

    •    Knowing the positions.
    •    Knowing the candidates.
    •    Knowing the ballot rules.
    •    Being involved in testing a ballot setup.

Retaining the services of someone else to oversee administration does not get you out of having to know those things. It only creates the need to pass those things along to someone else once you do know them.

Bonus Reasons

There’s another advantage to organizations self-administering their own elections—familiarity with the system. When you’re hands-on in the system, you will see value-added features that may be worth taking advantage of. These are things you’d be oblivious to without personally being in the system. Things like:

    •    Email solicitation.
    •    Candidate biography self-service. (A huge time-saver.)
    •    Pointers for increasing voter participation.
    •    Accepting comments on the ballot.

There’s also the featured content that appears in the right-hand column that might catch your attention for something like Election Email Best Practices, or other things that might simplify or otherwise improve your election process.


I know all of this because ElectionsOnline’s service did not always follow the self-administration model. In the very early years, 2002-2004, elections were set up for clients rather than for clients to have a tool with which they could handle setup themselves. As the service evolved and the option for self-administration became available, it was clear it was what clients wanted, so it became the default and only approach.