Despite all the evolution over the last ten years by organizations ditching their antiquated paper-based election processes in favor of much more efficient and cost-effective web-based elections, there are still many occasions where an organization mails out paper ballot packages to a great many, if not all, its voters. If you must, you must, but there’s a right and wrong way to go about it and the right way extends the benefits of a web-based election to all voters, not just those being targeted for web-based voting.
Here’s the hypothetical scenario. The ABC Association decides to conduct a hybrid election. All voters in a hybrid election can be placed into one of two groups.
- E-voters, targeted by email for voting online.
- Paper voters, targeted for voting the old fashioned way.
ABC plans to email the e-voters and send a paper ballot package to paper voters. A better approach would be to send paper voters not a ballot package, but rather, a paper ballot notice. The notice is essentially the paper equivalent of the email sent to e-voters in that it announces the start of the election; it contains the web address of the ballot; it might also contain the username and password the voter needs in order to login to the ballot. (The decision to do this could be effected by whether or not you’re using one-time, election-specific login data, or if you’re expecting the voter to login to your site to access the ballot in which case they would be using login data already on record. If the latter, it’s advisable to not ever print established usernames and passwords in any manner on anything.) The five advantages to conducting hybrid elections in this manner are:
- The amount, and thus the cost, of printing is reduced.
- The weight, and thus the cost, of mailing the piece is reduced.
- The burden of tabulating paper ballots returned to ABC’s office is relieved.
- There is only one set of consolidated results instead of one set of online results that needs to be merged with another set of paper results.
- One of the things that makes ElectionsOnline the leading innovator is that it gave birth to something called email solicitation. With email solicitation enabled on an election, any voter that accesses the ballot without an email address on record in the voter database, is prompted to provide one. The voter may bypass this and go straight to the ballot, but when an email address is provided, it’s recorded in the election system and also the election administrator is notified of it so it may be added to that voter’s record in your master database.
Realize too that the ElectionsOnline software supports the ability to create an on-demand paper ballot for any voter at any time, but this is really intended to serve a different purpose. This creates one-offs of paper ballots for a voter who’s phoned your office and requested a paper ballot for whatever reason. The specifics of how to handle these types of paper ballot requests are included in the user manual, but the point is, it’s not intended to be used as a way to generate paper ballots for large subsets of your voter roster. Rather, it exists to ensure no voter is left disenfranchised by a web-based voting process that occurred during a week when they were having computer problems.
It’s rare for an organization to have email addresses for every voter. Even rarer for all those email addresses to be valid, so some level of hybrid voting is likely going to be with us for the foreseeable future. But by following best practices that doesn’t have to mean any undue hassle.