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.
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.
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.
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.