Interestingly, there is a surprising lack of digitalization in cooperatives at present. Online voting, however, offers cooperatives a way to increase member participation and would help move cooperatives forward with the times.
Representative and council elections are integral aspects of cooperatives. It’s precisely such displays of democratic participation which makes them such fascinating case studies in the modern world. We are so accustomed to business being dominated by stocks, shares and unelected boards that cooperatives deliver some much-needed transparency to the business world. Digitalization in cooperatives presents a unique opportunity to boost member participation in elections even further.
Member-ownership is not only economically beneficial to cooperatives, it also allows members to contribute to the running of the organization. This is usually done in the form of representative elections. Of course, cooperatives need to elect their leaders by law but member engagement lies at the core of what cooperatives are about. Even larger cooperatives utilise their members to make sure that they are operating for the good of the member base.
Member participation in cooperatives is often limited to voting for representatives or board members at polling stations. This means that cooperative members have to cast their ballots in-person at their local cooperative branch. On the one hand, this can strengthen the cooperative community, with smaller regional cooperatives perhaps preferring a more personal touch. However, with larger, more urban areas, many people don’t have the time or the desire to show up in-person at the polling station.
Voter turnout for cooperative elections averages out at under 10%. The introduction of postal voting has thus far been unable to tackle this issue effectively. The difficulty with postal voting, as well as in-person voting, is that it requires a conscious and significant effort to vote. Voting at an AGM requires even more of an effort to vote. Members would need to take precious time off work to attend the meeting. Although realistically, doing so is no problem for representatives, whose job it is to attend the AGM and vote for the executives on behalf of their regional branch.
A lack of Digitalization in Cooperatives – So far…
Many AGM elections are done by acclamation – a show of hands and a rough estimate as to who has the most votes. Live voting offers the perfect combination of replicating an AGM experience while providing the highest levels of security and accuracy.
Even when physical ballots are used, so many documents are needed just to allow one voter to cast their ballot. Required documents include not only ballot papers, but voter invitations as well. It’s a sad situation when low turnout means that most paper ballots are destined to be recycled without being used. Postal voting hardly helps. It combines a similar amount of effort with numerous election documents. These include: an introduction to the election, candidate information, ballot paper, waiver, and envelopes. Online voting not only significantly reduces your carbon footprint, it also reduces the effort involved in voting thereby helping to increase turnout.
On the flip side – from the election manager’s perspective – organizing an election can be fraught with difficulty. Ballots have to be identical, election documents have to be sent, along with reminders – all at the cooperative’s expense. Digitalization in cooperatives through adopting online elections will reduce both the costs of running an election as well as drastically reducing the time you spend deliberating over paper ballots.