What is an Online Voting System?
A comprehensive guide to buying and using online voting tools for improved leadership, greater security, and more.
What is an online voting system?
An online voting system is a software platform that allows groups to securely conduct votes and elections. High-quality online voting systems balance ballot security, accessibility, and the overall requirements of an organization's voting event.
At their core, online voting systems protect the integrity of your vote by preventing voters from being able to vote multiple times. As a digital platform, they eliminate the need to gather in-person, cast votes using paper, or by any other means (e.g. email, insecure survey software).
You may hear an online voting system being referred to as an online election system, an online e voting system, or electronic voting. These all make reference to the same thing: a secure voting tool that allows your group to collect input from your group and closely scrutinize the results in real time.
Keep reading for access to the most comprehensive online voting system introduction you will find.
Electing someone, or a number of people
This includes electing:
Voting on something, or a set of things
This includes, for example, voting on:
Rules & regulations (e.g. bylaws, policy decisions)
Selections (e.g. award show nomination)
Employee preferences (e.g. workplace scheduling)
What’s the purpose of an online voting system?
Online voting tools and online election voting systems help you make important decisions by gathering the input of your group in a way that’s systematic and verifiable.
Oftentimes, these decisions are made on a yearly basis - during an event (e.g. your organization’s AGM) or at a particular time of the year. Or you might run ongoing polls amongst your group (e.g. anonymous employee feedback surveys).
It’s a good idea to use an online voting system to:
- Elect your leadership: A board of directors election is a good example, where there are multiple positions (e.g. chair, vice president, secretary, treasurer). All of which may include supporting documentation (e.g. biographies, resumés, headshots).
- Admit new members to your group. This helps you stick to a regular, fair process of evaluation and lets candidates know what to expect.
- Gather anonymous feedback from your employees. Managers (and managers of managers) want to know how their employees truly feel about their jobs and work life. Using an online voting system with a capacity for secret balloting helps employees express their true feelings, by understanding and trusting that their feedback will be heard, but not tied directly to them.
- Vote on yearly budgets. And since adjustments to your budget are often needed, an online voting system will keep voting secure and accessible - no matter where the members of your group may happen to be.
- Alter your operational procedures and bylaws. Just like leadership elections, expect group members to react strongly toward changes - no matter how minor - to organizational processes. You’ll want to collect individual responses to these changes in a systematic manner.
In all of these cases, an online voting system will enable better decisions, justify those decisions, and let you share proof that these decisions were carried out in line with the standards of your group.
Why might a secure, online voting tool be attractive to your organization?
Using an online voting tool will generate confidence in the results of your votes and elections, lower your voting-related costs, and streamline the election process for both you and your voters.
Cost Savings and Efficiency
The cost savings and efficiencies you’ll gain are unparalleled to any other method of voting. Groups switching to web-based online voting systems from more expensive and less efficient voting technologies like voting machines, paper ballots, and in-person meetings will reap these benefits without increasing risk.
Needing to fly halfway around the world to vote at your organization’s annual meeting is an example of a vote with low accessibility. On the other hand, tapping a link on your mobile device that securely logs you into the online voting system website is an example of a vote or election with high accessibility.
High accessibility generates greater turnout rates among your group.
Auditability and Verifiability
With an online voting system, you can easily showcase election results to eliminate concern. Sharing all administrator activity during your election to prove no one went in altered the results is just one of the many trust-building tactics you’ll be able to use in light of a vote challenge.
Security, Confidence, and Trust in Your Election Results
The confidence in your voting and election results is by far the most valuable aspect that online voting systems will offer to your group. The fallout of a vote being perceived as unfair is expensive, time-consuming, and wrecks havoc on the hard-earned trust you’ve built among group members. From this perspective, an online voting system offers unparalleled election security.
Here's the short answer: Anyone who needs to gather input from their group in a structured, secure manner.
The best online voting systems are flexible enough to help a variety of organization types. Here are some examples of groups that use online voting systems to run their votes and elections:
- Membership associations - Associations run the gamut from small industry-specific groups to gigantic professional organizations. Regardless, they need a means of allowing their members to weigh-in on key aspects. Membership association voting examples include board of directors elections and officer elections.
- Partnerships - Law firms (and other partner-based firms) regularly elect leadership. Partnership voting examples include: law firm and accounting firm partner elections.
- Corporations - Small, medium, and enterprise businesses require feedback from their employees, boards, and shareholders alike. Corporate voting examples include employee feedback surveys and voting amongst shareholders.
- Unions - Union leadership and documentation alterations are a regular occurrence. Union voting examples include: union officer elections and contract ratifications.
- Educational institutions - Across colleges, universities, and K-12 schools, votes and elections for faculty, student, and alumni groups are built into their foundations. The wider school systems themselves often have their own large-scale matters to vote on as well. Example educational institution voting events include SGA elections, faculty elections, and alumni elections.
- Churches - Just like other groups, churches have leadership and these individuals are often elected officials. Example church voting events include church leadership elections.
- Clubs - While group size and budgets may be smaller, that doesn’t mean local and interest-based clubs don’t benefit from structured and secure voting. Example club voting events include voting to admit new members and approvals of budget spend.
- Homeowner associations (HOAs) - HOAs have board of directors to elect, budgets to approve, and rules & regulations to update. HOA voting examples include board of directors elections and community budget approvals.
How do you use an online voting or election system?
A high-quality online voting system or online election system will offer these core capabilities:
Create what is to be voted on. Build ballots that let your group vote on things or elect people.
Upload your list of voters. The individuals in your group who are eligible to vote on ballots need to be uploaded into the voting system. Often, you’ll have the option of grouping these individuals into different segments (e.g. region, department).
Notify and follow up with your voters. You’ll need to let your voters know about upcoming votes and elections. And you’ll probably want to remind those that haven’t voted.
Gather and report on your results. After you vote, you’ll want to determine who or what won out over others. This may be an internal review or you may want to immediately share the results with your group.
There are wonderful survey tools out there. Google Forms and Typeform (or even a Slack poll) are great examples of tools to use when you just need some quick input from your group.
Polling and survey tools aren’t always a good replacement for an online voting system, however. What type of tool you choose depends on your usage and needs.
Consider this: How important the vote is to your group? And what would happen if there was a challenge to your vote; how would your group leadership handle it?
In certain, basic scenarios polls and survey creators are the best thing to use among small groups of people where the outcome doesn’t matter that much. For example, no one’s going to be upset if someone unfairly voted twice about where to go for lunch. (Or, at least we hope that’s the case!)
In more widely impactful scenarios, using these free and cheap survey tools can absolutely wreak havoc on your organization. Take a leadership election for example: a number of critical items are at stake: salaries, prominence, egos. It’s not hard to imagine how things could spiral if someone feels unfairly slighted.
Our advice? Carefully consider the ramifications when selecting the right tool for the job.
What’s more accessible: an online voting system website or an online voting app?
We recommend you select a web app based online voting system that you and your voters can securely access from any modern web browser (e.g. Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge, Firefox).
What are web apps? Web apps are web-based applications that don’t need to be installed on your mobile device or computer. Instead, they’ll run completely from your web browser. Native apps, in contrast, need to be downloaded onto your device from a website or an app store.
There are various reasons why we suggest you choose a web app based online voting system as opposed to an application that you and your voters will need to download onto their device.
By using a web app based online voting system website, you (and your voters) will get access to these benefits:
Web apps are accessible
Your voters will be able to instantly access the voting system online, without needing to go to the App Store (or Google Play store, or a company’s website) to download an app onto their device. Accessibility is directly connected to greater voter turnout and participation.
Web apps offer strong cybersecurity
High-quality, well-built web apps are routinely used and trusted by small businesses and the enterprise alike. Both the login information and the data you upload to the app will be safely stored in a cloud-based environment.
Web apps have strong cross-platform compatibility
The online voting website will look and function the same no matter what device you and your voters use. This is not always the case with apps that need to be downloaded.
In brief, use an online voting platform that you can access from a browser. And don’t make your voters download an app.
What happens when an online voting process goes wrong?
A botched election will erode trust within your group. In most cases, this mistrust will be directed toward their leadership, the organization, and its systems and processes. It’s not hard to see how this isn’t a solid foundation for the growth and continued success of your group.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you ran a vote last week and by all accounts, it was successful. New leadership was elected, or maybe you updated a set of important rules. Great!
This week, however, you get an email that informs you someone in your group not only disagrees with that decision, they want to formally challenge the outcome. They allege voter fraud. And now they’re getting more and more people in your group on board with their thinking.
You can hope this doesn’t happen, but it is a common occurrence and you should plan for it.
Without a high-quality online voting system, you wouldn’t have access to verifiable proof that the vote wasn’t unfairly manipulated. Best case, you would need to spend many stressful hours getting those items together to prove your case.
If you want your group to trust one another in spite of certain individuals not agreeing with major decisions, an online voting system is the only mechanism that will help you maintain trust by justifying how you came to those decisions. It’s the only technology you can use to prove to your group that the vote they participated in wasn’t unfairly manipulated.
Having an expert partner is critical when designing a vote implementation plan that avoids risk and ensures best practices are followed.
Note that the online voting platform is separate from vote management consulting services:
- An online voting platform is the software that’s equipped with vote security-related tools and settings (e.g. anonymity options, unique identifier keys, etc.). It should be leveraged whenever you manage an important vote or election.
- Pairing high-quality vote management services with your online voting platform virtually guarantees to your group a renewed sense of trust in their organization and its leadership.
Since the most prominent online voting system vendors have managed hundreds - if not thousands of successful votes and elections - it’s common for their clients to pair the online voting system with vote management consulting services. Why?
There are two main reasons why you should seriously consider pairing an online voting system with vote management services.
Reason #1: Voting & Election-Related Expertise
There’s a lot to consider when designing, building, and running even the simplest voting event. The fact is that it’s not always as straightforward to get your election results as you might expect.
This complexity often comes as a surprise to those who didn’t realize there would be so much involved with running a secure, accessible, and auditable vote. Because of what’s involved, we find that most groups can benefit from at least partial vote management and consulting services.
Here’s how we approach vote management at eBallot:
- We solidify your overall vision for online voting. We ask lots of questions to ensure that our team is synced up with your expectations. During this process, we often uncover things that clients hadn’t considered before.
|Sample Functionality||Client Questions|
Do you want to know how people voted? Or would you rather purposefully obscure that information, without affecting the results
Do you need to allot certain individuals more (or less) influence over voting outcomes?
What sorts of documents need to be shared with your group (e.g. candidate biographies, links to bylaws)?
- We design the rollout. We’ll get to a plan of what the voting event should look like, tactically. This includes the best way to reach your voters, set our sights on important dates, and ensure this aligns with your goals for voting and your group at large.
- We'll plan out notifications and follow-ups. We’ll plan for timely communications to the right voters at the right time, as well as follow-ups to those that haven’t voted or responded.
- We implement. While it’s possible to self-administer your vote using our software, our teams are voting software experts who are able to take the voting plan and implement it using the technical software settings. They’re able to prevent missteps around what might be overlooked by a first-time voting software user.
- We support you and your voters. We’re here for you when you have questions, if your voters need help, and in the event of the unexpected (e.g. curiosity about why the event unfolded like it did, someone questioning the validity of the vote, etc.) Whatever comes up, our US-based support teams are here for you.
Reason #2: Third-Party Management
Certified results reports
This is an official report from the online voting vendor that confirms your voting event was carried out in a fair and impartial manner by confirming:
- There was no system downtime during your voting event
- There were no security lapses
- The results databases sync up with no evidence of tampering
We'll also give you detailed information around voter turnout, voter choices (if running a non-anonymous vote), and custom reporting relevant to your group (e.g. turnout by department or region).
This executive-level report proves your commitment to a fair voting process, and is useful for both leadership along with everyone involved in the voting process to be aware of.
A renewed sense of trust
Using an unbiased third-party to run your vote and collect the results sends an important message to your group that:
- The vote or election you ran was fair and impartial, according to the rules of your organization
- No one manipulated the vote for personal benefit
- Best practices were followed
- Unnecessary risks were avoided
A high-quality online voting partner will ensure your group doesn’t neglect any of these essential aspects.
What technical details should you evaluate when purchasing an online voting system?
At a basic level, online voting software works by attaching a unique identifier to each voter, so that the system can tie votes to individuals. This is a key mechanism that prevents voter fraud, but it’s not the only aspect involved when running digital votes.
Here are the key technical areas that you should consider when assessing online voting software:
System functionality and security
As mentioned above, you should understand the specifics of your online voting partner’s unique identifier method. Make sure to ask probing questions around how this works, especially when it comes to various settings like anonymous voting.
You’ll be uploading sensitive information to the platform (e.g. individual names and emails), so you’ll also want to be aware of how that data will be managed and protected.
Read our guide to selecting an online voting vendor for a complete list of questions to ask all vendors you’re potentially engaging with.
The ability to audit your votes and elections
You should be ready to prove your vote was carried out using secure software and there was no unscrupulous handling of the votes, whether by your system or the people involved with managing the vote.
When it comes to less impactful votes, you may be able to get away with simply using a well-regarded online voting software.
But for groups that consider a particular vote to be highly important and impactful, we recommend that you take advantage of the vendor’s vote management services to separate yourself from the results. This would include: Partnering with a high-quality, reputable online voting vendor and getting them to certify that your results were carried out by their team, functioning as a third-party
The ease of building and managing your voting events
This is increasingly important if you or someone on your team is going to be managing your votes. While using a new tool always requires a learning period, at the end of the day, the software should be intuitive and easy to use. Expect it to guide you through the process of setting up your vote (e.g. ballot settings, design), sending out notifications to your voters, and interpreting the results.
The support-levels available for you and your voters
Whether or not you get help from your vendor, you will have questions about the overall process of running your vote the first time you go through the process. You’ll also have questions about what certain buttons do once you get in the software.
For your voters, they may need some help logging into their ballot or they may need you to re-send a notification to vote.
Some products come with a written, self-service knowledge base. These can be of varying quality - from hard to understand to extremely effective. Other times, you may want email and phone support from your online voting partner’s team.
Think about what makes sense for you. However, this much is always true: it’s important to be on the same page about client support expectations.
The ability to integrate with software platforms you already use
Voting systems are often able to “plug into” or “play nice with” software your group uses on a regular basis. This may or may not be important to you.
A commonly used integration with voting software is developing a Single Sign-On (SSO), so that your group can log in to the voting portal through existing systems.
The ability to customize your online voting software
If your group has specific or unusual rules around voting, the vendor and its software should be flexible enough to handle these requirements. These may involve interface design or technical system alterations. Customizations can be simple or complex and will be priced accordingly depending on the platform in question.
When searching for an online voting system and/or a team to manage your voting events, it’s best to be clear about exactly what you’re looking for as you before you enter sales conversations.
The types of results & reporting insights that are offered
After running a vote, most online voting software will make it easy to see who or what won out across all the options.
Detailed, custom reports are important to many organizations. These show trends like vote turnout, broken down by department, demographics, or region are helpful for understanding the results of your votes and elections at a deeper level.
When should my organization invest in an online voting system?
The short answer: when you need structure around your votes and elections or when you need to gather feedback in a structured and timely manner.
This is often accompanied by major, impactful group decisions such as rule updates, budget approvals, or leadership changes.
Here are some additional reasons why you might want to seek out an online voting system:
When it’s important to prove to your group that your vote was’t unfairly manipulated
When you want to avoid the risks of a vote gone wrong
When you don’t have the capacity or rather not deal with building and managing the vote
When you want to have the entire process handled by vote management experts, for convenience or auditing’s sake
How do I choose the right online voting tool for my situation?
When searching for an online voting company to partner with, here are the steps we recommend.
1. Finalize your voting requirements
Separate these into needs and nice-to-haves. Some aspects to consider include:
When do you need this voting event or set of voting events to take place? By which date do you need your results?
Who is eligible to vote? When do you want them to know about the vote? How would you prefer to get the word out (e.g. email, your website, etc.)?
|Voting process improvement||
How do you run voting now? What do you like about that process? What’s less-than-ideal?
How do you want your group to benefit? What do you want to reinforce to your group? What do you wish was different?
2. Search for online voting vendors
Use your personal network and search online.
- Ask your colleagues if they have run online voting before and if they could share any recommendations.
- Look at review sites that have voting management categories to get a lay of the land (e.g. G2, Capterra)
- Search Google and look at how the different online voting companies present themselves. Remember to consider their entire online presence. Don’t just go to their homepage; dive deep into their website, social media, blog, etc. How do they talk about what they do? What do their customers say about them?
3. Engage with the most promising online voting companies
Once you start to engage with vendors, you should have a thorough understanding of your needs and what it seems like the vendors can offer - this should lead to fruitful conversations as you start to get more tactical in the sales conversation.
Get the Comprehensive Guide to Choosing an Online Voting System Partner for our take on how to best structure these conversations (e.g. the best questions to ask potential vendors).
How should I prepare to roll out online voting at my organization?
After you partner with an online voting company, here’s what to expect:
If you self-administer your vote:
You or a designated person in your organization will get software training so they know how to build and roll out the vote
They’ll build the vote (ballots and questions), edit all the settings, set up the notification emails, follow up with voters to ensure they vote, etc.
Voters will vote and you’ll get the results.
If your vendor is fully-managing your election:
Your vendor will request some basic information (like a list of all eligible voters and their contact details)
They’ll keep you in the loop with important things as time progresses
Voters will vote and you’ll get the results
You’ll receive a certified results report and connect with the vendor on how everything turned out
What are the most popular online voting systems?
There are a number of providers in the online voting space. Among the most popular are Election Runner, ElectionBuddy, Simply Voting, and eBallot.
Be sure to connect with a few vendors and ask the questions you need to understand, as company setup, pricing structures, and commitment to client success vary widely.
What makes eBallot the ideal online voting solution?
The best people to answer this question are our clients. See our reviews on Google and G2, along with our list of successful clients. It’s exciting for us to consistently hold 90+% client retention rates, year after year.
We realize, however, that these ongoing client relationships don’t sustain themselves. We maintain partnerships because we’re able to provide significant, consistent value in these areas:
A commitment to online voting technology and consulting services
As a technology developer, we offer all the important aspects of what you should expect from your voting system. We’ll help you run structured votes. And we’ll manage them with the highest degree of security (e.g. the most up to date anti-voter fraud mechanisms, sound data management & storage).
As a team, we work with clients across organization types and industries day-in and day-out so we understand how important even just one vote or election can be to your group.
A key benefit of our expertise is we’re able to help you avoid risk and missteps that would otherwise create wide-reaching, expensive mistakes.
It’s not something we say lightly, but across the board and by all accounts, we’re confident in putting it like this: if you partner with eBallot, your voting event will be a success.
Attention to client experience
Even in our most entry-level products, we go through great pains to make sure client onboarding is as smooth and effective as possible. We have teams dedicated to improving the experience of our clients at all product levels and price points.
As any experienced operations professional will tell you, tight team alignment generates drastically better outcomes for companies and clients. We whole-heartedly agree with this notion and have spent many painstaking years developing a culture around this mindset. Our teams are constantly sharing information about important updates, changes, and modifications.
Ability to tailor and customize
We started as Votenet Solutions in 2001, and our earliest major client successes came as a result of being able to build and tailor custom voting setups that no one else could.
Today, hyper-customization is less important for many. But for others, it’s absolutely essential.
We’re able to tailor important, complex voting events in a way that others simply cannot.
This was a high-level introduction to the world of online voting systems.
At this point, you know what they are, why you'd be looking for one, and how to structure a conversation to better convey your requirements to potential vendors in a sales process.
When you start speaking with voting software partners - remember to guide the discussion by focusing on what's important to your organization. Depending on who you reach out to, this process should be relatively smooth and enjoyable.
Contact us with any of your additional questions about online voting. We'll point you in the right direction!
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