Virtual Meeting Roadshow - Part 3 - Adventures in Voting

Published on May 31, 2022

This blog is Part 3 of our ongoing virtual meeting roadshow, where we share our learnings and interesting moments from the hosting of online member meetings.  You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 in our blog archives.

We have continued to support sport organizations with their online voting practices, largely in part through the provision and management of Sport Law’s subscription to the Simply Voting platform. The platform allows you to conduct secure, third-party voting events (motions and elections) and ensure that voting is accurate, verifiable, and anonymous when required (i.e., secret ballot).  Our subscription helps to keep online voting affordable and at an arm’s length distance to ensure any unwarranted negative perceptions of voting manipulation are mitigated.  It is also worth noting that the platform can also be utilized for in-person meetings, provided that participants have access to reliable internet and voting devices (i.e. personal devices or voting kiosks).

Throughout the virtual meeting roadshow, we’ve learned a few tricks to make the voting process as efficient as possible. Inevitably the online voting process takes a little bit of time to administer (particularly the first voting event) and is slower than a verbal vote or a ‘show of hands,’ but it is usually quicker than an in-person paper ballot process.  I will often say in virtual meetings, “we are only as fast as the slowest bandwidth.” When bandwidth or technology issues are causing any unreasonable delays, there are methods by which we can collect votes verbally or through messaging functions and then manually enter them into the system.

In addition to technology issues, voting sometimes can be a hot-button topic with participants. Some common issues that organizations face with the voting process (virtual or in-person) include:

  • Complaints about how long it takes to tabulate a vote; sometimes with requests to ‘speed up’ the vote, end the vote collection early, or conduct voting a different way
  • Issues with a pre-meeting registration process which is used to vet attendees (ensure they are entitled to attend), gather absentee proxies or votes (where permitted), gauge the amount of logistics or amenities required (determined by the number of attendees), and establish the initial voting list for the meeting (to issue a test vote, determine voting representatives, calculate voting weight, etc.)
  • Challenges to the voting list that has been constructed by the organization
  • Questions about the result of a tie vote and/or the ability of the meeting chair to cast a vote (regular or tiebreaking)
  • Voting members asking to debate after the vote is called (this is not permitted once the vote is called)
  • Issues with the voting procedure (“this isn’t the way we did it last year”)

Less common, but certainly not less serious, voting issues that organizations may encounter include:

  • Challenges to the validity of nominations for an election
  • Challenges to the validity of a result
  • Attempts by participants to ‘stack’ votes through the use of proxies or other forms of absentee voting
  • Accusations of conflict around voting scrutineers
  • Voting participants leaving the meeting before or during the voting process without properly casting a vote, and then requesting that they be allowed to vote
  • Requests to change a vote after it has been cast

These voting issues highlight the importance of having voting procedures prescribed within an organization’s documents, in preparing for the voting process, in following those prescribed procedures, and in having the assistance of a parliamentarian.  While we can’t address all of the solutions to the myriad of voting issues that organizations may face in this blog, here are ten helpful tips and reminders for conducting the voting process:

  1. The voting process is influenced by a multitude of factors: There are obvious differences between voting virtually versus in-person, but factors that influence either format include the meeting size, the applicable procedural rules (governing Acts, bylaws, standing rules, parliamentary authority), the method and type of voting (see below), and the ability of the chair and/or voting scrutineer(s) to collect votes.
  2. Regardless of the factors, voting must always be accurate, verifiable, and where required, anonymous: The meeting chair and the members should have confidence in the voting process.  Voting members have the right, in a meeting, to ask for clarification on the voting process, to verify an indecisive vote (Call for Division of the assembly), or to challenge a vote or election on the basis of a clear violation. The timing of such an inquiry, Call for Division, or procedural challenge is limited and there must be grounds for any challenge (i.e. persons who are ineligible have voted, fair or prescribed procedures were not observed, gross negligence in conducting the vote/election).  By ensuring that voting is accurate, verifiable and anonymous (i.e. elections, voting by secret ballot) there should be no reasonable dispute or significant concern(s) about the voting process.
  3. There are different methods to cast and collect votes:  Common methods include voting by voice vote (viva voce), show of hands, standing (rising) vote, roll call, use of voting cards or clickers, and ballots (paper or electronic).  As well, agreeing by unanimous consent (or consensus) is appropriate in certain circumstances and helps to improve meeting efficiency.
  4. There are different types of voting and vote requirements:  The most common type of vote requirement is a majority vote, which ideally is defined as greater than half of the votes cast.  Other vote requirements may include a higher than majority vote (i.e. 2/3 vote, supermajority) or a plurality vote (more votes received than the number received by any other candidate or alternative proposition).  Other common types of voting include ranked ballots (ranking all options in order from most preferential to least preferential) and preferential voting (ranking a limited number of the most preferred options, with the lowest options being dropped and ballots recast until a majority vote is achieved).  Less common voting types include cumulative or split voting (allowing a voter to place multiple votes for a single candidate/option instead of casting singular votes for the available candidates/options), bullet voting (placing all multiple available votes for only a single candidate), and the Texas ballot (voters indicate the single candidate/option that they least prefer).
  5. Use of absentee votes (i.e. proxies): Organizations should always follow applicable and documented procedures, and do so regardless of any concerns of vote stacking/manipulation.  If proxies are permitted and members correctly appoint proxies in accordance with the governing rules, that is their right to do so.  While it may be frustrating that members with opposing views may seek to rally support through proxies, this right should not be restricted beyond how it is prescribed.
  6. Tie votes should result in a motion being defeated: Unless your governing documents prescribe specific rules for a tie vote, a tie vote is NOT a majority of votes and it does not reflect the majority will of the participating voters. If tiebreaker votes are prescribed, however, then such rules can be properly applied. Tiebreaker votes are generally not recommended as they provide an undue advantage to an individual (often the meeting chair/president) who should have the same equal rights as others versus additional voting power.
  7. Recording the voting result numbers is usually not required: We have heard comments such as, “the motion passed, but barely” and “the voting strength for this candidate/option was very high (or very low).” Such comments are generally irrelevant and it is not important to note or record the numbers related to a vote.  Historically in the minutes, and for the purposes of the organization moving forward, all that truly matters is the result of the vote and any applicable corresponding action.  Was the motion carried or was it defeated? The numbers are not intended to be analyzed beyond determining the result of the vote. 
  8. Meeting polls are generally not recommended in a virtual setting: Without getting into the weeds, it is challenging to ensure that meeting polls (i.e. Zoom Polls) are 100% accurate, verifiable, and anonymous. While it is possible to utilize meeting polls for voting there are several associated risks, particularly when business matters are debated and contentious.
  9. Triple-check your voting lists: To ensure voting lists are accurate and verifiable, it is imperative to confirm that they properly reflect those who registered and who are entitled to vote, that proxy holders and assigned votes are included, and that names, email addresses (i.e. for voting), and voting weights (if applicable) are correct, and that there are no duplicates or accidental omissions. The voting list must be correct.
  10. The process is the process: While meeting participants may complain about the registration process or the time that it takes to process a vote, organizations (and the Chair) should avoid taking short-cuts that may please members, but potentially compromise the voting result or remove a member’s ability to vote. In some instances, a recess or a pause in proceedings (asking the members to stand at ease) may be necessary to correct any voting issues.  In other situations, the chair or a Director may need to clarify the purpose of the process. At the core of it all, we are aiming to produce a valid voting result that is fair and indisputable. The process takes however long it takes to ensure that we get it right! 

In our previous roadshow writings, we emphasize the need to establish a proactive and well-communicated registration process and to maintain member rights.  This certainly applies to voting for both virtual and in-person settings. Through our support of in-person meetings, we also assist with voting procedures and our team members have often served as independent voting scrutineers where required.

As always, it is beneficial to utilize a parliamentarian to ensure voting integrity.  A parliamentarian will help an organization apply the applicable voting rules and provide a proper interpretation of your parliamentary authority (in balance with those organizational rules).  The most common parliamentary authority is Robert’s Rules of Order (Edition 12) which provides procedural guidance on voting, as do other parliamentary authorities such as Bourinot’s Rules of Order, Perry’s Call to Order, and Meeting Procedures by James Lochrie.

If you are interested in learning more about how to properly conduct votes and our meeting support services, please contact Jason at jer@sportlaw.ca.

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