PTO Officer Elections FAQs

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How do you run a PTO election? Answers to the most common questions.

by Christy Forhan

08/27/2021

How do we elect our officers?

First and foremost, check your bylaws. If they include election guidelines, you have an obligation to follow them. If there aren’t any election guidelines in your bylaws, you should be guided by Robert’s Rules of Order. But even Robert’s Rules offers a lot of latitude for nominating officers and electing officers. So your PTO is free to develop the method that works best for your membership.

Usually, elections are fairly informal until the PTO encounters a controversial election. Unfortunately, at that point it’s hard to formalize the process without alienating some of the members. It’s better to set some policies now than to be caught unprepared in the future.

Below are the basics for nominating and electing officers. Use this guide to develop your own approach, and then secure the approval of that approach from your membership so there is no confusion over how and when new officers are elected.

Nominating PTO Officers

Who manages the nomination process?

Many large PTOs establish a nominating committee made up of three to five members. The nominating committee's job is to promote the upcoming election, explain the requirements for the elected positions, reach out to potential candidates, accept nominations, and manage the actual election process. The nominating committee must be unbiased throughout its work.

You should set your election day on your calendar at the beginning of the year. It’s a best practice to hold elections at the same meeting each year. (May is most typical.) Give parents a month’s notice that you’ll be holding elections—you can mention it at the previous meeting and include it in the email when you distribute minutes (if you do).

Many people feel uncertain of their ability to take on a PTO office. The nominating committee can help demystify the jobs and encourage members to step forward to lead the PTO.

If your PTO is small, the nomination and election process can be handled by the current officers, as long as they sincerely attempt to be unbiased and open to new nominees.

In most PTOs, self-nomination is the norm. If a member is nominated by someone else, the nominee must agree to the nomination before her name is put into consideration.

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

Who can be nominated?

Generally only members of the PTO are eligible to be nominated for elected office. However, if the bylaws do not stipulate this requirement, it is conceivable that a nonmember may present herself for nomination. (Your bylaws should also define who is considered a member of the group.)

Some PTOs might have more stringent requirements, such as a formal succession plan (for example, “you must serve at least one term as assistant treasurer before you can be nominated for treasurer”).

If your bylaws set term limits for board members, make sure to have a plan in case no one runs for a position but an existing board member who'd be made ineligible by term limits is willing to serve. We recommend adopting a bylaw that says something like “Officers are limited to a maximum of two one-year terms, unless no other candidates are willing to run for that office. In that case, the incumbent may seek an additional one-year term.”

How are nominations announced?

It's wise to announce the names and a brief bio of the nominees in advance of the election meeting so that members can carefully consider the candidates. You can send an email to your members, list the nominees in your newsletter, post the names on a bulletin board, etc.

Many groups set a deadline for when candidates must express an interest in running for a position. Setting a deadline helps groups know which positions are unfilled. While it's fine to ask parents to indicate their interest, we recommend that you still allow nominations from the floor the day of the election, as allowed by Robert's Rules of Order.

This means that people can be nominated right up until the time that the members are ready to vote. Using standard parliamentary procedure, the members must move to “close nominations” before the vote begins. New nominees can be added until the nomination period formally closes, even if it’s a member who seems to have come out of nowhere. There’s no reason to prevent people who want to help from seeking an office, no matter when they make that decision.

Should our candidates give a speech or debate one another?

Even in large PTOs, officers are not elected based on a platform or a particular point of view. So there really is no need for a formal campaign or debate. However, to ensure that the election is more than just a popularity contest, it's good practice to have the nominees introduce themselves at the election meeting. Nominees should share why they want to be elected, highlights of their PTO service, and any special skills they bring to the PTO.

Electing and Voting on PTO Officers

How do you run an election when there are no current officers?

An election isn’t really about the current officers, it’s about the future officers. Do you have bylaws that specify how your elections should be run? If so, follow those procedures (setting a meeting date, communicating it to members, etc.).

If you’re a new group just starting out, gather your group of like-minded parents who are willing to help get organized and parcel out the responsibilities. Write the bylaws, schedule some involvement-building events, and work toward formal elections for the following year.

Who can vote?

Your bylaws determine who votes. For PTAs, voting is limited to dues-paying members. Some PTOs use the same formula. We recommend that PTOs allow all parents who attend the meeting to vote. We feel it’s more important to encourage participation than to collect dues. If teachers are considered members, they also would be allowed to vote. Typically, the principal and other administrators would not vote. They act in an advisory capacity to the group rather than as voting members.

If your bylaws are vague on the definition of “member,” then you should clarify the voting rules before the actual election. For example, should you allow one vote per person or one vote per household? Are teachers and administrators allowed to vote?

Only members who are present can vote, unless otherwise specified in your bylaws.

Most PTOs do not allow absentee voting. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, absentee voting is invalid unless your bylaws specifically allow it. We advise against allowing voting by email. It can significantly complicate an election. For one thing, the vote cannot be final until you have verified that each of the email votes came from a member who is eligible to vote. Save yourself lots of hassle—do not allow absentee voting.

How should we cast our votes?

If you’re holding a formal election (as opposed to just recruiting your next officers informally), then you should prepare paper ballots for your election meeting. A show of hands is also acceptable, but it might prove embarrassing for the candidates.

Preprint names of known nominees on the ballots, with space available to add any nominees from the floor.

If your PTO is concerned about voter impropriety, you can hand out ballots to members as they sign in for the meeting. Be sure to have a current membership list on hand to validate attendees.

Ballots should be counted privately by two or three PTO members who are not officers and not running for office, possibly along with one representative from the school such as the principal. Consider saving the counted ballots in a sealed envelope in case there is some doubt about the validity of the outcome.

Should we vote for individuals or a “slate”?

That’s up to your PTO, but determine your policy long before your nominations begin. Some members might plan to run together, as a group. They believe they could be a good team, and they want to be considered for election as such. However, you might have other members interested in running for office who are not part of a slate. This situation could make for a very awkward election. For this reason, some PTOs ban the nomination of a slate and elect each individual position on its own.

How should votes be counted?

Before the election, appoint a committee of two or three people to count the ballots. Choose people who are not current officers and are not running for office. Have them retire to a corner of the room to count the ballots without interruption, and make sure they double-check the count. Announce the results immediately once the committee finishes counting.

What if there is a tie?

For the most part, majority rules. In the case of a tie vote, Robert's Rules calls for revoting until a decision is made. But practically speaking, you might want to talk to the candidates about sharing the job or taking on a different project, such as chairing an important committee or holding a different office.

If your bylaws allow for co-officers (for example, copresidents), then you need to plan how the “co-” winners will be determined. How do you decide whether you are electing one president or two copresidents? Do the top two vote-getters automatically share the job? What if there are three nominees for the position? Would you allow three people to share one office as “tri-officers”? These details need to be worked out in advance.

When do the new officers take over?

Typically, the bylaws will define the transition date. In some PTOs, the new officers take over immediately upon election. In other groups, the existing officers serve until the last day of school. Another approach is to transition at the start of the PTO’s fiscal year. If your bylaws are silent on this topic, Robert’s Rules of Order stipulates that elections take effect immediately.

Originally posted in 2009 and updated regularly.

Comments   

# Karen Scrementi 2010-03-17 15:21
Your FAQ's on nominations and elections was very helpful, but I was wondering about how to settle a tie for any one office. Should the sitting Executive Board decide? What is the best path to take in this situation?
# Craig Bystrynski 2010-03-17 18:57
Robert's Rules prescribes what I'd call the "wear em down until they crack" method -- you simply keep voting until somebody switches their vote and one candidate wins. This may make sense at political conventions, but it might not get the job done in a small group. I do think you should vote at least twice or maybe three times, just to make sure you really have a deadlock. After that, have a revote at the next meeting -- or schedule an interim meeting if you can't wait that long. In between, talk to the candidates to see if an accommodation can be made. Maybe they could share the position, or one could act as the assistant with the understanding that she would take over the following year. Or perhaps one would be interested in chairing a major committee instead. If you can't reach a compromise and there's a tie vote again, then yes, let the executive board make the decisions. But I would call that a last resort -- you may be stepping into a significant controversy that will harm the spirit of your group.
# Mary 2011-03-24 23:00
What do you do when the election goes badly and one of the people running loses and drops out of all committees and envolvement in the school, will not respond to phone calls and emails? She is a Second Vice President (Fundraising) and refuses to communicate. Says the election process was rigged. All bylaw rules were followed.
# Perplexed 2011-04-08 19:52
Just yesterday our PTO voted on officers. I am a parent/teacher at my school. I self-nominated for President and Vice President, so if one fell through, the other might uphold. There were no other parents on the ballot for a vote. What doesn't make sense to me is that our PTO leaders allowed anyone who walked in the door to vote. They didn't check the list of members to ensure that everyone even had the right to vote for officers. It seemed like a popularity contest. I couldn't care less that I did not get President or Vice President, but what concerns me is that all our PTO officers are teachers and none with a child at this school. I thought PTO was a PARENTteacher organization. This is why our parents are walking away. The parents who show up are the same ones that help out at the school during specific functions. Shouldn't parents be on the officers board too? Where can I find the by laws for my school specifically? I have asked to see them to yet no avail. Suggestions?
# Lee Reeves 2011-06-17 21:52
We have a potentially contentious officer election coming up for board officers. Are all discussions regarding the candidates conducted in open session prior to the voting or should the board go into executive session to discuss potentially sensitive issues?
# Craig Bystrynski 2011-06-17 22:08
Lee -- If there are issues you need to discuss as a board that are personal and sensitive regarding the election, you should talk about them in closed session and you should do it before the election -- not on the same night. Once you get to the point of actually holding the election, all discussions should be held in public. Be careful about using executive session, though. It might appear to others as if you are trying to fix the election. Also, slander and libel laws still apply. It's tempting to speak loosely in executive session, but if you are talking about another individual's character, tread very carefully.
# liz 2012-05-08 02:09
question: does a nominee have to be present during the election to be "voted" in? does the elected officer have to be present to accept the appointment of office?
# Jen labadie 2012-06-12 02:24
I have a question. What happens when an Officer Elect steps down before their term begins? Our policy does not speak to this situation. Our policy states that if there is a vacany in any position before their term ends, the Officer Board can find a person to fill the position. In this case there isn't technically a "vacancy" because the new term has not begun. What would you do in this case? We did have a runner-up at our last PTO meeting of the year. Thanks!
# Craig Bystrynski 2012-06-12 03:14
Hi Jen -- I think it's safe to consider that a vacancy and name someone else to the post as your bylaws allow. Someone was elected and they are not able to serve -- to me, that constitutes a vacancy.
# LTDS 2012-09-07 00:06
I volunteered for the 2012-13 pto committee to schedule volunteers . When I emailed the President for the forms, she said she would forward it to the VP. The VP send me the info, but I noticed the email was attached to the email the President sent her. She said that she knew the treasurer had an issue with me and that they should still utilize me so I don't cause more problems. This is a new board, and I don't know anyone except the treasurer, and I didn't know we had issues. Can I ask the president and treasurer to step down ?
# Genie 2012-09-17 14:23
Can you hold a PTO office if your children do not attend school within the district?
# Genie 2012-09-17 14:25
Is a person allowed to hold a PTO office if they do now have children currently enrolled in the district?
# Rosario 2012-09-30 13:17
At the end of 2011-2012 school year the school where my daughter attends sent out a paper stating that they wanted to change from PTA to PTO and that a meeting was being held for election of officers. Officers were elected, but then this past thursday they held another meeting and elected officers again. When this was brought up, it was said that the last meeting was invalid and so was the election of officers because the school principle nor the vice principle were present and had no idea that a meeting had taken place much less an election of officers. Yet notices were sent home with the students. Does school admin have to be present at the meeting? Is what I was told correct?
# Craig Bystrynski 2012-10-03 14:39
Rosario -- Unless your bylaws require the principal or vice principal to be present (and that would be a very unusual rule), their absence wouldn't negate the vote.

In situations like this, it's helpful to have a frank talk with the principal about what his real concerns are. There's some reason underlying his objection -- see if you can get to the bottom of that. When you find out what it is, you might find a compromise that makes him feel better and doesn't involve new elections.
# karen 2012-10-22 18:35
Can someone get nominated from the floor even though they went through the nominating process/interview and was not selected by the nominating committee?
# Tammy Plaster 2012-10-23 01:54
We are a new PTO just starting & currently do not have any elected officials.
We are running right now with 1 person that went to the principal, told them what she wanted & he allowed her to speak at Open House to start getting people going to get a PTO started. We are trying to do a consencus vote on everything at the moment.
There are a small amount of people (10 or so) & nobody really knows each other.
How do we handle elections or should we just have people appointed for the 1st year or do we attempt to have an election? We really want to get it going & recruit more people but we know we need a board just aren't sure how to go about it.
# Stacey 2013-06-07 20:11
We had our PTO board elections last night. Noone was on the ballot for VP, therefore, that position was not voted on and remains vacant. However, after the meeting, someone expressed interest in this position. How can we proceed to get this person eleted? Can we hold a special meeting/election? Our bylaws only state that there is a yearly election.
# Lily 2013-11-08 18:48
Wondering if there is a policy or bylaws that allow a non-parent (step-parent) become an officer? We have a situation: with a step-parent becoming an officer and she is never involved with her step-child's school until now. The biological mother is one of the volunteers and she is very active with her son's school. This is a conflict of interest.
# Craig Bystrynski 2013-11-08 19:48
Lily -- There are an awful lot of step-parents around these days. I can't imagine why a PTO would want to keep them out. In fact, it seems like a good thing for a child to have both mother and step-mother so involved. Hopefully these two women can keep the best interests of the child and school at heart.

As for someone with no experience becoming an officer, good for her for taking this on when others didn't. It's certainly not uncommon for new officers learn on the job.
# ed houser 2014-12-11 19:30
What is it called when only one person is running for office and the president can cast a ballot to give the person the position?

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