Getting people together to vote requires a lot of upfront planning, travel, sometimes cost (if geographically spread out), and leaders to manage this whole event.
Due to hectic schedules, competing priorities, or urgent needs, hosting an in-person voting event simply isn’t feasible for many organizations.
While most organizations are probably allowed to engage in voting over email, we don’t recommend it. Before we get into that, let's start with the upside of voting by email.
What are the benefits of voting by email?
It’s easy to do and it encourages participation.
In just a few clicks or taps on their phone, most people are able to log in to their email and reply to a message. They’re probably looking at their emails inbox anyway, and there’s no extra logins necessary. There’s zero learning curve.
It’s actually not the worst way to gather feedback on a decision to be made.
Much like voting in-person - while email isn’t the best way to run a vote, there are definitely less effective ways to host important votes and elections. For example:
- Simple survey and polling software may be easy to use, but these tools clearly weren’t built for important decision making.
- With email, you’re able track who voted on what, if that’s important for your vote. You can also be relatively certain that only the individuals you’ve invited were able to weigh in.
- With most simple, free survey and polling apps (e.g. Google Forms, SurveyMonkey), this simply isn’t the case.
- These platforms don’t have secure voter authentication measures, and cannot protect against someone casting their vote from a different location or private browser.
Now let's get into the downsides.
Why you shouldn't use email to vote on important matters
There’s a lack of context.
If you’re hosting a leadership election (e.g. board of directors), voters will be looking for candidate statements, headshots, and resumes. These are standard expectations.
If you’re voting on a thing (like updated rules or bylaws, for example), everyone will want to know the options of what they’re eligible to vote on. They may want links to review extended documentation.
Sure these can be written in text or attached, but opening multiple documents is one of those things that adds an extra layer of difficulty for your voters. Sometimes these items get missed altogether. At the end of the day, it’s not a great experience.
There’s a palpable lack of professionalism.
While email is secure from a technical standpoint in most cases, there’s something about making important decisions over email seem a little bit… off. Even if there are tools to make email voting more feature filled - is this how you want your organization to view your decision-making procedures?
Email voting isn’t exactly a quick thing.
Everyone needs to agree about how the voting process will take place and what the guidelines are. Someone needs to manage the voting process -- via email no less -- and take great pains to prove they are collecting the results in a transparent and honest manner.
Completely anonymous votes are impossible.
What if you don’t want voters to know who voted for what? You just want to know who or what won out, and perhaps the amount of votes each selection received.
That can’t happen with email voting. At the very least, the person sending out the vote and collecting the responses will need to know in order to tally the results up. Anonymous voting functionality simply isn’t there.
Even with the best intentions, you’ll bias your vote.
Rest assured, even if you make a point of only replying to the sender, there will undoubtedly be others who hit ‘reply all’ and make their voices heard to the whole group. Maybe that’s okay for some votes, but at the very least, this sort of action biases and sways individual voters.
If you’re just running a simple vote (to vote on where to eat, for example) there should be no reason to worry about bias or people manipulating the outcome. Just send out a link to a Google Form and be done with it.
When it comes to matters like Board of Directors elections or bylaws updates, however, the stakes can be considerably higher. Voting by email can be leveraged, but it simply isn’t worth the risks and annoyances it presents.