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Procedure for Voting by Ballot


Matt Schafer

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Today's topic is brought to you by the letters C and R. (And a whole lot of others. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.)

Let us suppose that I am a member of an organization that defines its members in a way that is different than what RONR defines. For us, a member is an owner of a C or an R. Each member (the owner of a C or an R) is entitled to one vote whenever a question is put. It may be that one person owns a whole bunch of letters, and in that case, he or she gets one vote for each of those letters owned. Conversely, several people may own one C or R; and they then get only one vote collectively. All of these various owners of these special letters are entitled to attend and participate (make motions, debate, vote) in meetings of the members. Just to make it clear (since this isn't the point of this post), all of the foregoing is stated in the bylaws and other superior governing documents.

Let's also suppose that I'm the chair in a meeting of this organization, we're going to elect directors, and that the election must be done by ballot.

I want to ensure that the vote is conducted fairly and with the greatest amount of confidence among the members that it was fair and correct. To do this, I need to ensure that one ballot is dropped into the box for each MEMBER, whether that is one individual or a group of people.

What is the best way to handle this? (This seems to be more of an issue of procedure and logistics, not so much about parliamentary law.)

First, I need to ensure that my tellers understand precisely who is allowed to vote. That is, who is entitled to 18 votes because he owns 18 letters, and which groups (or most likely couples) are entitled to one vote between them. Then they need to watch and ensure that this is done properly. Will they need a roster of all of the members and check them off when each casts a vote? That would help detect when more than one person of a group attempts to cast more votes than they're allowed.

Also, they need to check that each person entitled to multiple votes does not try to put more ballots in the box than they're entitled. So it seems that the easiest way to do this is to put the tellers in front of a single ballot box, and each of the members will need to hand their ballots to a teller, the teller counts the number of ballots (without unfolding them) and another teller checks the roster and marks it so that another vote cannot be cast by that member.

Would it also be appropriate for a member who is entitled to multiple votes to mark only one ballot, then declare to the tellers that he wishes to cast all of his votes the same way? Then one of the tellers could mark on the outside (without unfolding) the number of votes cast on that ballot, signed or initialed by that teller and another teller who double-checks all of that, then the ballot dropped in the box. To do this, the member would necessarily be waiving his right to cast his votes in secret (since if there's only one person with 18 votes it would be kind of obvious who cast that ballot).

Or is it better to just force that poor guy to write up 18 separate ballots and the tellers to verify, drop in the box and count 18 identical ballots?

Any further thoughts you might have to help me make this work smoothly (especially if I've overlooked something important) would be greatly appreciated.

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I'm going to lay odds that the majority of replies will be centered around the concept that you have a customized rule that goes against one of the main precepts of RONR and perhaps even the long-standing and hallowed parliamentary procedure: one (wo)man, one vote. You want to do it differently, you'll have to figure out the (and this may have been your most astute observation here) "procedure and logistics" of this on your (organization's) own.

But stay tuned, I don't think the heavy hitters are online at the moment. :D

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Today's topic is brought to you by the letters C and R. (And a whole lot of others. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.)

Let us suppose that I am a member of an organization that defines its members in a way that is different than what RONR defines. For us, a member is an owner of a C or an R. Each member (the owner of a C or an R) is entitled to one vote whenever a question is put. It may be that one person owns a whole bunch of letters, and in that case, he or she gets one vote for each of those letters owned. Conversely, several people may own one C or R; and they then get only one vote collectively. All of these various owners of these special letters are entitled to attend and participate (make motions, debate, vote) in meetings of the members. Just to make it clear (since this isn't the point of this post), all of the foregoing is stated in the bylaws and other superior governing documents.

Let's also suppose that I'm the chair in a meeting of this organization, we're going to elect directors, and that the election must be done by ballot.

I want to ensure that the vote is conducted fairly and with the greatest amount of confidence among the members that it was fair and correct. To do this, I need to ensure that one ballot is dropped into the box for each MEMBER, whether that is one individual or a group of people.

What is the best way to handle this? (This seems to be more of an issue of procedure and logistics, not so much about parliamentary law.)

First, I need to ensure that my tellers understand precisely who is allowed to vote. That is, who is entitled to 18 votes because he owns 18 letters, and which groups (or most likely couples) are entitled to one vote between them. Then they need to watch and ensure that this is done properly. Will they need a roster of all of the members and check them off when each casts a vote? That would help detect when more than one person of a group attempts to cast more votes than they're allowed.

Also, they need to check that each person entitled to multiple votes does not try to put more ballots in the box than they're entitled. So it seems that the easiest way to do this is to put the tellers in front of a single ballot box, and each of the members will need to hand their ballots to a teller, the teller counts the number of ballots (without unfolding them) and another teller checks the roster and marks it so that another vote cannot be cast by that member.

Would it also be appropriate for a member who is entitled to multiple votes to mark only one ballot, then declare to the tellers that he wishes to cast all of his votes the same way? Then one of the tellers could mark on the outside (without unfolding) the number of votes cast on that ballot, signed or initialed by that teller and another teller who double-checks all of that, then the ballot dropped in the box. To do this, the member would necessarily be waiving his right to cast his votes in secret (since if there's only one person with 18 votes it would be kind of obvious who cast that ballot).

Or is it better to just force that poor guy to write up 18 separate ballots and the tellers to verify, drop in the box and count 18 identical ballots?

Any further thoughts you might have to help me make this work smoothly (especially if I've overlooked something important) would be greatly appreciated.

Voting by secret ballot is clearly not appropriate. Voting by roll call or signed ballot are the usual methods.

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Rob, could you elaborate a bit, please? Why would secret ballot not be appropriate?

And yes, roll call or signed ballot would make it much easier to administer the vote.

I am not Rob but I would say it is probably for the exact same reasons you mentioned in your post regarding the difficulty determining that everyone who voted had their votes calculated by the number of letters they own. I am going to go outside of the box a little and say that using the procedures for counting mail in ballots on RONR pp. 409-411 might simplify matters some by having the voter put all of the ballots in an envelope and write his or her name with the number of votes included.

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I am going to go outside of the box a little and say that using the procedures for counting mail in ballots on RONR pp. 409-411 might simplify matters some by having the voter put all of the ballots in an envelope and write his or her name with the number of votes included.

Yeah, that would certainly be another way to simplify this. And it would still ensure the secrecy of the vote, since the ballots have no identifying marks leading back to the members who cast them. That information stays on the envelope and is checked by the tellers before the ballots are removed and put in the pile to be counted.

Of course, the tellers would still need to ensure that the number ballots inside the envelope matches the number of votes written on the outside of the envelope. And if not, then mark the outside of the unfolded ballot in some way. But then that defeats the purpose of the secret ballot.

Yeah, I'm starting to realize that secret ballots are problematic. I think it is possible, though really complicated. And the more complexity in the process, the less people understand and trust it.

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I am not Rob but I would say it is probably for the exact same reasons you mentioned in your post regarding the difficulty determining that everyone who voted had their votes calculated by the number of letters they own. I am going to go outside of the box a little and say that using the procedures for counting mail in ballots on RONR pp. 409-411 might simplify matters some by having the voter put all of the ballots in an envelope and write his or her name with the number of votes included.

That's right, Chris H. This kind of voting is very common at the shareholder meetings of commercial stock corporations, where each voter may own a different number of shares of stock.

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Yeah, that would certainly be another way to simplify this. And it would still ensure the secrecy of the vote, since the ballots have no identifying marks leading back to the members who cast them. That information stays on the envelope and is checked by the tellers before the ballots are removed and put in the pile to be counted.

Of course, the tellers would still need to ensure that the number ballots inside the envelope matches the number of votes written on the outside of the envelope. And if not, then mark the outside of the unfolded ballot in some way. But then that defeats the purpose of the secret ballot.

For secrecy reasons, RONR uses a double envelope method for mail-in ballots. The outer envelope contains the contact information and is verified against the roll of members. The outer envelope is then discarded and the inner envelopes are put in a separate pile. This decreases the possibility of the tellers accidentally seeing the ballot while knowing the identity of the voter. This procedure could be modified here, by marking the inner envelope with the number of ballots included before discarding the outer envelope.

As for the people who can only cast a vote collectively, I'd break them into the appropriate groups, give them a ballot and use the double envelope method for them as well, and have the tellers round up the envelopes afterward.

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