Conducting Elections

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 057
Publication Date: 11/96
Order#: 96-015
Last Reviewed:
History: Replaces Order No. 88-023 - "Conducting Elections"
Written by: Chuck Bokor - Rural Leadership Consultant/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Conducting Elections
  2. Recruiting Candidates For Office
  3. Election Procedures
  4. The Election Officer
  5. Conclusion
  6. References

Conducting Elections

Democracy - "government in which the people hold the ruling power either directly or through elected representatives; principle of equality of rights, opportunity."

Webster's dictionary defines what all our modern day voluntary organizations already know: that the rights of individuals must be respected, and that each member has an opportunity to express his or her opinion, to attend meetings, and to vote.

We elect representatives to speak on our behalf, trusting that they will say what we would say, and do what we would do. The proper conduct of elections of these representatives is vital to the democratic process.

This Factsheet looks at the days leading up to the election, procedures for running elections that are commonly used by organizations, and roles and responsibilities of the individuals who will be involved in making your elections a success.

In the months before...

Long before the date of elections, your group has made plans for the coming year. Community projects, member information meetings, product promotion... the list goes on. As long as there is a need for your organization to exist, the planning never stops. Your group will need new ideas, new thinking, new people.

Successful and healthy organizations ensure that every volunteer position is filled, that there is a good ratio of new board members to those who have been returned, and that elections by acclamation are not the rule.

Recruiting Candidates For Office

A nominating committee is often named as a standing committee of the organization. This committee is responsible for ensuring that the names of all members who

wish to stand for each vacant position are considered by the organization during elections. It solicits nominations from the membership and contacts each nominee to:

  1. notify him/her of the nomination
  2. answer any questions about the job
  3. verify that he or she will stand for election

The nominating committee's report to the annual meeting will then be a list of candidates who have agreed to run for election. It may also recommend persons for election as chairs or members of other standing committees. The nominating committee should be chaired by a senior member of the organization who is not from the executive to avoid being biased by the current leadership. (A past-president is suitable if no other member qualifies, but the remaining members of the committee should not be former officers of the organization or present members of the executive committee.) This policy encourages new people and fresh ideas for the coming year.

Other members of the board have an important recruiting role to play. Throughout the year, everyone should be encouraged to submit the names of members-at-large who might be approached by the nominating committee. The identification of qualified individuals is often the highest hurdle a nominating committee will overcome. If during the year a list of names is accumulated, then nominating committee members will have a much easier task prior to election time.

Members of the board can go one step further. They can actually ask the person they have in mind if he or she could be "approached" by the nominating committee when they are looking for candidates. This practice helps to prepare the nominee for the interview by a member of the nominating committee.

The nominating committee has a very important mandate. It should be a working committee for the entire year, elected at the annual meeting, or named by the board soon thereafter. If no nominating committee exists in your organization, then members of the board have the responsibility of finding new candidates for vacant positions. Many organizations rely solely on nominations from the floor during elections to fill positions. Neither of these practices is recommended as reliable for filling all vacancies.

Constitution and By-Laws

The constitution is the functional framework of the organization. It briefly outlines objectives, roles of officers, methods and procedures, and provisions for amendment (to accommodate changes that need to be made).

By-laws describe the internal workings of the organization, and can be written as part of the constitution or as a separate document. In either case, procedures for setting up committees (e.g., a nominating committee), their roles and responsibilities, and election procedures should be contained in the by-laws. Identical procedures would then be followed, ensuring continuity and therefore satisfaction of the general membership. If procedures that are acceptable to the organization are not written into its by-laws, then a process for amending the constitution can be initiated prior to the time of the annual election. Notice of change to the constitution should be included with the notice of the annual meeting, to be received at least 10 (ten) days prior to the meeting.

Each organization is unique. Election procedures are adopted to suit particular needs. There is no one model for the proper conduct of elections, but whichever method your group chooses, that method should be proposed to the general membership for agreement and inclusion in the by-laws.

Election Procedures

How do we know which method is the "right" one? Again, democracy reigns! If every member of the organization is treated fairly, equally and with respect during the entire election process, then the methods used are likely proper. Following is one model for conducting elections:

  1. nominating committee report, containing names of eligible members who have been duly approached and have agreed to stand, is circulated to all members or posted prior to election;
  2. election chair is appointed/elected;
  3. all offices are declared vacant;
  4. election secretary is appointed/elected;
  5. by-laws governing the conduct of elections are read or explained;
  6. scrutineers are appointed/elected;
  7. a motion to receive the nominating committee report is entertained; and
  8. each office is then brought forward in turn as follows:
    • Call for nominations from the floor - include names of candidates from nominating committee report. (Nominations need not be seconded.)
    • List all names in the order nominated for all to see, beginning with the candidates proposed by the nominating committee.
    • Close nominations either by a declaration from the chair after a reasonable time, or by approval of a motion by a two-thirds majority vote that nominations be closed.
    • Ask each person nominated, in reverse order of nomination, whether he or she will stand for the position.
    • If only one person agrees to stand, then he or she is elected by acclamation to that position. (The elections officer announces that result.) If more than one person agrees to stand, then each is asked to briefly address the group explaining his or her views on policy, etc.
    • Voting should be by ballot, each member receiving one ballot, entering the name of the candidate of choice.
    • Scrutineers distribute and collect ballots, count the votes cast for each candidate, and report results to the elections officer. Results are announced, the winner being the candidate that receives the majority (50% plus one) of votes cast. If no candidate receives a majority, then the candidate with the least number of votes received is dropped from the list and a second vote is taken. This process continues with a third or fourth vote until a candidate with clear majority emerges. If no nominee allows his or her name to stand, then there will be no candidates for election or acclamation. In this case, nominations can be reopened and solicited from the floor. Again, if only one person stands, he or she is acclaimed. If more than one nominee allows his or her name to stand, an election is held. But if again no nominees agree to be candidates for the position, then it is declared vacant (either for the entire year, or within a period of time during which the Board of Directors is charged with the responsibility of filling the position). Elections can be reopened only at the direction of a motion that is carried with a two-thirds majority of votes cast.
  9. At the close of elections, ballots should be disposed of at the direction of a motion from the floor;
  10. The entire list of elected officers is read by the elections secretary;
  11. The elections officer returns the chair to the meeting chair.

The Elections Officer

Who should conduct the elections of the organization? Preferably, an elections officer, who is neutral and unbiased and is seen to be so by the electorate. That person should not be a candidate for another office, but should be familiar with election procedures.

The elections officer is responsible for chairing the elections. He or she should check the by-laws of the organization to familiarize himself/herself with the organization's methods as adopted by the general membership. If no procedures are included in the by-laws, then the elections officer should examine past annual meeting minutes for the methods traditionally used. If none are recorded, then the president and secretary can be consulted for direction. And if there are still no answers, then the above elections procedures model can be used. In any case, methods to be used need to be explained and, if necessary, adopted by the annual meeting participants.

Points to Remember

  • Elections in most organizations are held during an annual meeting of the general membership. However, if for example directors are elected from a number of different regions, then ratification of the new board should take place at the annual meeting. Election of officers, committee chairs and members of standing committees can take place at the first organizational meeting of the Board.
  • Voting by ballot helps to ensure independence of choice as well as secrecy of choice.
  • A "slate" of officers, presented by the nominating committee to the annual meeting, can be intimidating to a member who is considering becoming a candidate for a position. The perception that "everything is cut and dried" is a common one when a slate is presented or when the same people get elected/acclaimed each year. The work of the nominating committee, which is meant to encourage members to get involved, should never be presented as a final description of next year's board.
  • One way to overcome the feeling that the nominating committee's candidate is the person who should be the newly elected officer, is to have the nominating committee submit its name for each position only while other nominations for that position are being solicited from the floor. Elimination of the step of circulating or posting a proposed slate of officers prior to election is a controversial one that should be agreed upon by members at the annual meeting for implementation in the following year.
  • If the elections procedure is described at the start of the meeting, and there is disagreement by voting members, then a two-thirds majority vote on a motion to change procedures is in order. If described procedures are outlined in the by-laws or constitution, then changes cannot be made unless due notice has been sent to every member prior to the meeting.
  • A "reasonable" amount of time for soliciting nominations from the floor is indicated by a lack of nominations after the elections officer has asked three times for nominees.
  • Be sure that what is required as a legitimate ballot by voters is clearly defined. An example may be that only one name, indicating the voter's choice for the position of president, is to appear on the ballot. Another example may be two names, indicating the voter's preference for president and first vice-president.
  • During an extensive election procedure, the meeting must be stopped in order for ballots to be counted. The chair can be returned to the annual meeting presiding officer in order to conduct other business (e.g., hear annual committee reports, etc.).
  • Members who are nominated but absent from the meeting should have a statement in writing submitted on their behalf to the meeting. Options are that the nominator may vouch for the nominee's willingness to stand or that the group will assure same but will verify at a later date. These latter two methods often prove unreliable, particularly if a nominee declines the candidacy.


There are no hard and fast rules governing the proper conduct of elections. Any models that have been traditionally used by long-standing organizations can be and have been adapted to suit the needs of other organizations and their members. The key word is democracy. If the rights of your members are respected, allowing equal and fair opportunity for each person to vote, then your elections will be successful!


  • Bourinot's Rules of Order. Bourinot, Sir John George. McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1894.
  • Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario Handbook. F.W.I.O., 1987.
  • Parliamentary Procedure at a Glance. Jones, O. Garfield. Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1932.
  • Procedures for Meetings and Organizations. Kerr, M. Kaye and Hubert W. King. Carswell Legal Publications, 1984.
  • Robert's Rules of Order. Robert, Henry M. Tutor Press, 1978.

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