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Online Voting Tips for PTOs and PTAs

Making your officer elections virtual can help keep business moving along even if you can’t meet in person. (And yes, it's legal!)

by Elizabeth S. Leaver


Even before the coronavirus closures caused a legitimate need for it, more and more groups turned to online voting to conduct officer elections. It can increase participation and convenience, and it’s a good option to keep in mind if there’s poor turnout at a meeting with an important election vote.

First—Is It Allowed?

Under normal circumstances, this depends on your bylaws. This is still true under these particular coronavirus-related circumstances, but because extraordinary events are interfering with the election, you can put provisions in place to adjust your process.

If your bylaws say no proxy voting, the first thing to do is to amend your bylaws to address the in-person voting stipulation. You can send an email outlining your proposed changes in advance, and then schedule a Facebook Live or other virtual conference meeting to vote on the changes. Once you’ve updated your bylaws, you can conduct your election using videoconferencing, an online voting platform, or other technology that works for parents.

Ultimately, if your group decides to allow online voting, you should add a brief policy statement to your bylaws. Your policy statement could read something like:

“In the case of an extraordinary event where the majority of the membership is unable to vote in person, the board can decide to hold online elections.”

Help your new leaders transition smoothly and keep your group going strong

Videoconferencing Tips

Chances are you or some of your board members are already using Zoom or other virtual conferencing platforms for meetings or virtual get-togethers with friends and loved ones. It’s generally as easy as settling on a time to meet, setting up the meeting, and sending everyone the invitation.

A few tips from our Facebook group on having smooth and successful videoconferences:

  • Have an agenda and screen-share it so you can stay on track

  • Ask everyone to mute themselves to cut down on background noise

  • Ask everyone to use a specific view mode according to your needs: gallery view if you want everyone to see everyone, speaker view if it’s more of a lecture

  • With some recent security concerns, make sure your meeting is password-protected so only invited participants can get in

  • For larger meetings, ask people to write in the comments with a keyword of the topic or to write “comment” or “question,” and ask a moderator to call on people to share their idea

Tools for Online Voting

If you prefer not to conduct your election via a virtual meeting, there are lots of online voting platforms specifically designed for election voting. Some are free; others charge a fee. Choose the option that matches most closely with your group’s needs and when communicating with parents about how to vote, make your deadline clear.

You can find online survey or voting tools by doing a search of “online survey tools.” Some popular online survey and voting programs include:

Online Platforms vs. Email

Online voting via a platform like SurveyMonkey is not the same in practice or purpose as conducting a vote by email. To generate results from SurveyMonkey (or another platform), your group’s admin (the president, treasurer, etc.) puts together a question or series of questions, adds the recipients’ email addresses, and tallies the results using preset settings. An email vote would be conducted simply by sending out your question or questions via email to your recipients and gathering and tallying responses.

In general, it’s best to avoid conducting votes via email. For one, no matter how clear you are that the appropriate response is a simple vote between a number of options, voters will often reply with multiple selections, accompanied by caveats, disclaimers, and comments. All you expect is a simple yes or no, but you could get a lot of maybes. As well, votes conducted by email can be trickier in terms of opportunities to miscalculate or tamper.

There might still be a place for email in the overall process, though. It’s fine to use it to encourage people to vote and for discussions or brainstorming among smaller groups, such as committee members, and for issues that don’t require a formal vote or a discussion or vote from the larger group.

Originally posted in 2020 and updated regularly.

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