The Association Election Model

January 2nd, 2019 by David Simms

Categorized as: Election Tips, Time Savers

The Association Election Model

Your association made the switch from paper to electronic years ago. Congratulations! That’s progress and you’re already spending less time and money than you once did. But it’s only the beginning and there is likely still further evolution to experience. Too regularly I see clients not taking full advantage of system features, or—if using another election vendor—not even being aware of the tools ElectionsOnline has introduced to the market to take things to the next level. Use this article as a sort of checklist to measure what your association is doing against what it could be doing to ensure you are where you ought to be with respect to operating in a modern, intelligent way.

Association elections are not necessarily any different from any other type of private sector election, so the model detailed here really applies to almost any organization. But because there are some technologies heavily targeted at serving the association sector—and because ElectionsOnline’s client base is made almost entirely of associations—this article will be written with an association election in mind. If you’re not an association, it likely still applies.

That said, the following is a high-level overview of the procedures an association should follow for running an election.

  1. Consolidate elections. Long before any voting gets underway, try to consolidate any multiple elections your organization may run. This means if you’re a national-level organization with smaller regional chapters or special interest groups, do everything possible to merge everything into a single, consolidated voting event for the reasons detailed at 4 Reasons to Consolidate Multiple Elections.

  2. Collect nominations. Sometimes candidates are placed on the ballot after progressing through a leadership track or some similar process. In those cases, it is obviously not necessary to solicit nominees from the full membership. However, when nominees are solicited, that activity should be performed online and failing to do this is perhaps the single-most violated best practice I observe. Running an election online too often means running only the voting phase online. Use ElectionsOnline’s nomination engine to conduct the pre-election activity of gathering nominees and allowing the chosen candidates to flow right into the voting phase without having to treat that as an entirely autonomous phase of the overall election process. See Using the Nomination Engine or full details.

  3. Don’t add clutter to candidate names. It bears repeating given the regularity with which I observe ballots being cluttered, but as What’s in a (Candidate) Name describes, nothing but the actual name should be a part of the candidate name. No job titles, no affiliations, just the name. The system provides for anything in addition to the name to be displayed where it belongs—as part of the biography.

  4. Prepare biographical information, when applicable. Not all voting events involve electing people. But when people are on the ballot, and you wish to have biographical information for them attached to the ballot, they should upload that information themselves. Even still, I see all too often, a single election manager within an association collecting candidate biographical information and loading it into the system for the candidates. The best practice is that the candidates load their own information into the system as described at Candidate Biography Self-ServiceDual Models for Candidate Biographies describes the differences between using either the free-text or form-based model for accepting biographies.

  5. Don’t send out paper ballots, at least not to anyone who doesn’t request it. This really just means, don’t blanket your entire electorate with paper ballots that have a message on it to the effect of, “Please vote online.” People will vote by whatever method you place in their hands. If you place a paper ballot in someone’s hand, most will ignore any pleas to vote online and mail in the paper ballot. In cases where you don’t have good email addresses on record for everyone, simply send a notice (not a ballot) to them that directs them to vote online. Finally, this does not mean you should refuse to provide a paper ballot to those who request it. No one should be left disenfranchised, so for anyone without a means by which to vote online, paper ballots may be provided in those cases and ElectionsOnline supports that capability. For more on conducting elections using online and paper voting, see 5 Advantages of Conducting Hybrid Elections the Right Way.

  6. Gather voter demographics. The ElectionsOnline system supports the ability to associate up to four pieces of custom data with each ballot, so by all means, take full advantage of that to facilitate advanced reporting on the election results. It’s explained more fully at Enhanced Demographic Reporting.

  7. Integrate with your AMS to do things like:

    1. Create a single sign-on experience for voters so they may login to a website they’re already familiar with, using login data they already know.

    2. Record voting activity so it may be factored into member engagement scores.

    3. Pass a voter’s preferred language code to ElectionsOnline so the ballot displays in different languages for different voters as explained at One Election, Multiple Languages.

    4. Make possible the ability to push always-current data into your email platform to send custom reminders only to those who’ve not yet voted.

    5. Pass voting activity data into other systems like Higher Logic to raise awareness of the election.

    Visit the Integrations page for more about ElectionsOnline’s integration offerings and don’t miss the API documentation for more about the full range of integration possibilities with the ElectionsOnline system.

  8. Promote the election with Higher Logic. Any association not already using Higher Logic, is quite likely moving towards using it in a couple years for their member community platform. As explained at Higher Logic Integration with ElectionsOnline you may take advantage of peer influence to raise awareness of an election.

  9. Announce winners on ElectionsOnline by creating a link on your own website, or by email, that points to an election’s results page at the ElectionsOnline website. I’ve seen elections conducted at ElectionsOnline, but the results are then copied into an association’s website. Admittedly, if any of these best practices are going to be ignored, this would be the one, but the benefits of pointing to ElectionsOnline, with the most compelling reasons first, are:

    1. Voters may witness that the election was in the hands of an independent third-party election specialist. If your ballot was fully integrated into your own website, the voters may not have known there was an outside specialist behind the scenes the whole time. Allowing that to be known may instill confidence in the results

    2. When using the custom demographic fields, results may be filtered by those demographics. Your electorate could have fun filtering the results by different voter segments.

    3. It’s easy. It’s certainly much easier to just direct voters to an already-existing web page, than to create an entirely new one.

  10. Copy previous elections to avoid going through the election setup process repeatedly each year. It’s as easy as clicking Copy previous election on your account welcome page. (Obviously the link appears only when there is a previous election available to be copied.)


Taking advantage of best practices and fully benefiting from system features does not impose additional burden. To the contrary, it streamlines and simplifies the process so much that elections come very close to running themselves.