It will happen at least a couple times each year. I’ll hear from a prospective client about how they tried to save a buck by forcing an election through one of the many survey tools on the market. Not infrequently they’ll describe how this turned disastrous for them, generally because the election was compromised due to inadequate security. Elections are serious business and administering one is not to be taken lightly as if it were a nuisance, or chore, that you need to just get through in the cheapest manner possible. A compromised election undermines trust in both your election and your organization.
So reason number one that an election is not a survey, is because the many low-cost survey tools on the market do not have the same level of security or voter authentication mechanisms built into them that exist in reputable election tools. But further suppose that your election needs to undergo an audit at its conclusion. Good luck getting a survey provider to provide you with an election consultant that can perform an audit of your election.
That’s not to bash survey tools. I have personally used some of them myself and have recommended their use to organizations, when it is appropriate and the right tool for the job. It simply isn’t the right tool for the job when the job is an election.
Security alone should be reason enough to dissuade anyone from trying to conduct an election using a tool not intended for that purpose, but there are other reasons. A sampling of which are:
- Ballot shuffling randomly displays the names of the candidates to ensure no candidate enjoys an advantage due to name placement on the ballot.
- Candidate biographies, including photos, permits attaching candidate biographies directly to the ballot so it’s available to the voter at the place and time they’re ready for it.
- Nomination engine permits performing the entire nomination phase online and the selected candidates flow seamlessly into the voting phase of an election.
- Candidate biography self-service is a feature that allows candidates to upload their own biographical materials using either a free-text option where they may enter anything they want, or they complete a template-based form created by the election administrator to ensure consistency from one candidate’s biography to the next.
- Position descriptions, like candidate biographies, permit presenting, in the most voter-friendly manner possible, a description of things like changes to bylaws or any other referendum which requires a more fulsome description.
- Write-in votes are permitted on true election systems.
- Voter groups and special interest groups were designed from the ground up specifically for use in elections. For a full description of voter groups, special interest groups and when to use one, the other, or both, see this previous article.
- Ballot weighting permits assigning greater weight to the ballots of some voters than others.
- Paper ballots, when they are necessary, should be easily accessible by a quality election system to ensure no voter, including those without access to a computer, are not left disenfranchised.
- Integration with a back-end voter database is possible with ElectionsOnline so that voting activity may be captured and used in reporting; factoring into a member engagement score; or feeding into other systems like the Higher Logic community platform to drive increased voter participation.
For more about the feature set for online elections offered by ElectionsOnline, see the online voting system page. But when it comes time for your next election, handle with care and don’t take unnecesary risks by trying to hack through with a tool not built for the job.