An election is going to be held, that much is certain. And everyone knows what the election is for. Sufficient individuals have put themselves forward as candidates. The election committee, e.g. for the association or board election, has been constituted. There’s only one thing left to organise: how the election is going to take place.

The election procedures have to be set out clearly prior to the poll itself and whatever decisions are taken in this regard must be binding on the participants. People must be clear about where and how they are to cast their vote, and this is usually set out in the rules governing elections.

If modern online voting methods are to be used, for instance, the association’s charter should be altered to reflect this. For this reason, it is important to consider which voting procedures can be implemented well ahead of time. This will affect the design of the ballot, the directions given to voters and, of course, the budget.

Anyone, who conducts election and thus has to make selections, will inevitably find it hard to choose from the many options. But once the pros and cons have been considered, a decision can be made. Each procedure for voting has its good side and bad side, but if the organisers are crafty, they can exploit the advantages and minimise the disadvantages.

Today we’re looking at different voting procedures – their strengths and weaknesses.

Different voting procedures – what they can and cannot provide

  1. Local voting: are all present and correct?

“Local voting” means that the voters have to physically go to a polling station and prove their identity.
They are then given a ballot paper and are able to cast their vote – without others witnessing the event – and the ballot papers are placed in the ballot box thereafter. Only when all votes have been submitted, the electoral volunteers start counting them by hand.

Local voting is the best-known procedure and also the one most trusted by the electorate. After all, people’s IDs are personally checked, so fraud is unlikely. However, mistakes can be made during the counting process. Apart from all these considerations, local voting has one huge problem: the need to be physically present.

Anyone prevented for reasons, such as being on vacation, suffering from illness or unforeseen circumstances from attending is prevented from voting. Especially in the last of the scenarios mentioned, the freedom to submit a postal vote is useless, since “unforeseen” is synonymous with “sudden” – and people cannot suddenly vote by post.

In the case of local voting the organisers often decide on an election day rather than an election period, as it is easier to hold a properly run election on a single day. The cost of holding the election includes expenditure on staff conducting the poll, guarding the ballot boxes and counting the votes.

Conclusion: Local voting is something the electorate is used to; voters do not need to learn anything new and it appears to many people to be the “safest” method. Voters have to be physically present, which excludes all those who cannot make the trip to the polling station and also dictates that the entire election be held on a single day.

  1. Postal voting: timing is everything

Unlike local voting, a postal vote is a form of “remote voting”. It doesn’t matter where the voters are located, as long as they can be reached by letter.

Voters must also be registered on the electoral roll with their full and correct address and return their vote by post before a particular date.
People wishing to cast a postal vote must plan ahead in good time, as snail mail is now the most drawn-out mode of communication.

Since a lot of paper and stamp-licking is involved, postal voting is an expensive procedure. And there is one large problem with the system: the turnout may diminish for a range of reasons:

  • The trouble involved in filling out a form, putting a stamp on an envelope and finding a letterbox can negatively affect a person’s motivation to vote.
  • Voters must get everything done before a particular date – and deadlines are often forgotten.
  • The letter also has to be delivered, and many glitches can occur. Either the election notification containing the ballot paper or the filled-in ballot paper may arrive too late or not at all.

Conclusion: Postal voting is useful for notifying people who cannot be present on a particular day. It is expensive and requires a lot of work on the part of the voter. When a ballot is being taken by postal vote the organisers should take measures to increase the electoral turnout prior to election day.

  1. Online voting: opportunities provided by the digital medium

The online vote is a form of electronic remote voting. It is the most modern way to hold an election – and is often the mode favoured by the younger generation but viewed with scepticism by the older generation.

Voters log into an electoral system using various authentication keys and security questions. They can cast their vote once and then log out of the system. Job done.

There are many advantages to online voting:

  • It is the cheapest way to hold an election.
  • It is quick to carry out and the results are arrived at via an automated process.
  • Mistakes during vote casting can be prevented, which can be useful if the ballot options are complex.
  • As with postal voting, online voting does not require the individual to be physically present and is open to all those entitled to vote, regardless of where they may be.

Naturally an online ballot requires people to have access to, and a minimum level of familiarity with, the internet. For instance, if you are part of the management or admin department of a registered association that has decided to adopt the online voting procedure, you should factor into your planning that the members must be fully instructed well in advance on how to go about voting and be told how they can acquire further information (e.g. by emailing the election coordinator, visiting an information source on the website or phoning a hotline).

Online elections are conducted entirely in the digital medium and are thus very cheap to hold and kind on the environment. By adopting the online method you can reduce your election costs by up to 70 percent.

The election committee can counter any scepticism on the part of voters in the run-up to the ballot by explaining why the online method is safe and secure: voting is anonymous and the procedures are fully compliant with German data-protection laws.

Conclusion: Online voting systems are modern and have many unexpected advantages. For instance, they are quick, cheap, precise and geographically non-prescriptive. It is important that all those entitled to vote have access to the internet.

Also possible: a combination of voting procedures

Depending on the options available, you can use the local, the postal or the online voting procedure. But you can also use a combination of methods.

If your association or company is made up of a heterogeneous group of people, e.g. one that spans a wide age bracket, it may be appropriate to use a combination of voting methods. In the run-up to the ballot the electoral committee can opt for a number of different ways of casting a vote and voters can then choose the method that they prefer – young voters tend to prefer to vote online.



About Anna-Maria Palzkill

As a communication scientist I am interested in the impact of technics on life among politics and economics. I want to trace nuances and am not afraid of big words.