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Dos and Don?ts for Referendum Voting

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Referendum Best PracticesElectionsOnline’s software supports voting on referendums. An example of this might be allowing voters to adopt or reject a change to a bylaw. These are handled nearly identical to voting on positions contested by candidates. So much so, in fact, that during election setup a referendum is treated as a position and the options for adopting or rejecting it are treated as candidates. There is one difference though. While displaying a full position description is always optional for any position, it should almost always be done for referendums as I can’t imagine a scenario where a referendum would not require a description of that being voted on. To display a full position description, an election administrator logs into the client section of the ElectionsOnline web site and clicks the Manage Positions link associated with an election. From there, you see controls for managing all position properties, which includes display of a full description.

Simple one- or two-word phrases are then to be provided as the voting options for a referendum. Terms like adopt and reject are perfect examples. They’re short and easily understood. Yes and no may be appropriate in other cases. The point is, don’t, as I have seen done in the past, provide a detailed description of the referendum as the position name, then provide some overly verbose options for either adopting or rejecting it.

The Wrong Approach

Consider the following as an example. An organization wants to vote on whether to adopt a new bylaw that sets elected officials’ terms to three years instead of two. Here’s the wrong way to do it.
 
As the position name, you input, Modify the language in Section III, Paragraph II of the ABC Organization’s bylaws so that the term for the elected members of the Board of Directors becomes three years instead of two beginning with the next election cycle. You then provide no full description of the referendum. In other words, displaying position descriptions is set to no under the Manage Positions link associated with this election.
 
And then as the voting options to be selected by the voter, you provide:

  • Yes, I vote to change the bylaws so that terms for Board of Directors are three years instead of two.
     
  • No, I vote to not change the bylaws so that terms for Board of Directors are three years instead of two.

What’s wrong with this approach? There simply is too much text on the ballot. To be voter-friendly, a ballot, like any web page, needs to employ minimalism and progressive disclosure. People also tend to not actually read web pages, but rather scan them quickly, which is one reason why voting options need to be kept to one or two words. Short options don’t require actual reading and can be visually digested with just a quick scan.

The Correct Approach

How might this example be improved?

  1. Use a simple one-line description of the referendum as the position name, such as Bylaw amendment to lengthen terms for Directors.
     
  2. Turn on position descriptions and copy the existing bylaw text into the position description. A link to this full description will display immediately below the referendum name on the ballot so the voter may click that to read a full description of the bylaw change. Then use strikethroughs to show the text that is to be removed from the bylaw and use text coloring to show the new text that will take its place.
     
  3. Use short voting options such as Adopt or Reject; Accept or Decline; Yes or No; whatever might be appropriate for your situation.

Conclusion

The ElectionsOnline software is well equipped to handle referendum voting in a manner that is elegant for both the voter and election administrator. Following these simple best practices ensures that elegance is fully utilized.