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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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
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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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