Voters won’t vote in an election they don’t know about. Therefore, on an election’s start date, you should announce the election to your voters. Doing this for voters without an email address is a topic for another day, but the intent of this article is to give an executive summary of email delivery within the ElectionsOnline system and present some best practices you can take for communicating with voters via email.
ElectionsOnline’s expertise is in developing online voting software. The industry-leading experts at delivering email is a company called SocketLabs. Therefore, ElectionsOnline and SocketLabs have partnered to handle the delivery of emails like those the voting software sends to voters. This partnership works behind the scenes and does not require the client to do anything special to benefit from it. SocketLabs does an exceptional job and when you conduct an election with ElectionsOnline, you can be assured that everything which can be done from a technical perspective, is being done to give email to voters the best possible chance of delivery. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of a Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Keys Identified Email (DKIM), and working with ESPs (Email Service Providers) to maintain a favorable sender reputation. Furthermore, the emails to voters are structured to have a low image to text ratio and also an unsubscribe link—both of which improve an email’s probability of reaching the inbox. As you’re setting up an election, you’re also prompted to provide a value to appear in the FROM field of a recipient’s inbox for any email sent by ElectionsOnline. This does nothing to improve deliverability, but is a value-added feature of the system to help the voter recognize the email came from you and pay attention to it rather than clicking delete.
Despite all the effort that goes into delivering email, there will inevitably be some that don’t reach the inbox. Furthermore, these few emails may not appear in the failed email report you’re able to access from within your client account at the ElectionsOnline web site. Why is that? You might think an email is either delivered or failed and that any email which is not delivered would have to show up in the failed email report. Well, not quite. There’s a difference between an email being accepted by the recipient’s email system, and actually making it all the way through to the inbox. When an email is accepted by the receiving system, it is regarded as delivered and will not appear in your failed email report. This is because the tracking mechanisms in place are technically unable to track what happens to an email once it’s been accepted by a receiving system. That system may accept the email, then quarantine it rather than allow it to pass through to the inbox of the recipient. The reasons for it being quarantined would be known only to that system’s administrator. In this case, it has not failed delivery in the technical sense, but it also hasn’t been “delivered” in the business requirement sense of it reaching the voter’s inbox.
What can be done? As stated already, from a technical perspective, all that can be done, is being done. But there are some non-technical things you can do to improve delivery, such as:
- Contact your voters prior to the election and inform them to define ElectionsOnline as an approved sender with their own email provider—sometimes referred to as “whitelisting.” If they login to their own email provider’s web site and submit firstname.lastname@example.org as a whitelisted email, any email sent from that address, like the election announcements and reminders will make it to their inbox. Sometimes voters may not have the ability to manage their own whitelisting. This would be the case when a voter is in an organization where email is administered by an IT department. In these cases, voters should be instructed to instruct their own organization’s IT departments to ensure email from email@example.com is whitelisted.
- You may wish to send your own email on the start of the election. Your voters may have already whitelisted email originating from your domain so they would be likely to receive it. Whether or not you choose to include the voter’s login data in this email is up to you, but I do strongly encourage doing that only if the login data is intended for one-time use in a specific election. Do not send login data they already have on record with your organization through unencrypted email.
- You may wish to send the initial announcement at the start of the election yourself, then configure the ElectionsOnline system to send a follow-up reminder a few days after the election start to those who’ve not voted. This two-pronged approach means any voter that’s already whitelisted email from your domain would receive your email at the start of the election, but because it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that your organization takes as many technical measures as SocketLabs to ensure delivery, the reminder email originating from ElectionsOnline, with all that goes into getting it delivered, is sent. Following both recommendations 1 and 3 would go a very long way to making sure every voter receives a notice at some point during the election and is not left disenfranchised.
There’s no one-size-fits-all right solution. Talk it over with your IT staff. If you’re among the few organizations with an IT staff with a level of expertise and dedication to email delivery rivaled only by email delivery specialists like SocketLabs, it may be best for you to take advantage of that and send all your email from within your own domain. That needs to be weighed against the desire to have your election entirely in the hands of an independent third-party provider, so you may wish to be entirely hands off the whole process, including sending emails.
Voter participation is dependent on voter awareness. That in turn is dependent on successful delivery of email. It’s a challenge, but one that can be addressed.