ElectionsOnline’s voting software now supports the ability for voters to provide free-text comments with their ballot. While this has no impact on election results, it does permit an organization to glean deeper insight into the mood of its electorate and understand why they voted, how they voted.
Comment fields, which are disabled by default, are position properties meaning they may be enabled for any or all positions or referendums on the ballot with just the flip of a switch at the Manage Positions link for administering an election. Election administrators may also add a caption that appears immediately above the comment field on the ballot to instruct voters about the type of information you’re interested in having them provide. Comment fields accept a maximum of 175 characters, which should be plenty of space to permit the voter to provide valuable input while also restricting them from rambling on and drifting off topic. A handy character counter is associated with each comment field and updates with each keystroke to display the number of characters they have remaining.
While there’s nothing stopping an election administrator from turning comments on for every position on the ballot, the intent is that this be used when placing a referendum or perhaps a non-binding resolution on the ballot in cases where you’re interested in the how voters feel about an issue beyond just a basic up or down vote. In fact, as a best practice in ballot design, it is recommended that nothing appear on a ballot not directly related to the act of making selections. Therefore, it is advised to resist the urge to enable comments simply because doing so is so simple. Instead, do so sparingly and only when it truly is appropriate as described above.
When you enable comments on a ballot, you’ll be able to view a comments report at any time during the election in the same fashion as the results are viewable. In fact, it is on the results page where the link to the comment report appears, though it only appears when comments are enabled. The report will contain not only the comments provided by voters, but also the selection(s) a voter made so you’re able to associate a comment with a voter’s selections.