Here are some practical tips for running Virtual Elections/Conventions during Covid19 we’ve compiled after observing dozens of virtual conventions. If you’re interested in running a virtual election, check out QuickVote and reach out to us.
A convention is a grass roots election to elect a set of delegates. The specific election rules are often dictated by pre-existing bylaws and vary by county and state. The basic structure is that there is a Chair who emcees the convention and participants who vote in the election. There could be between dozens to hundreds or even thousands of voters. Conventions often use Roberts Rules of Order and take motions from the floor to guide convention procedure.
There is often a credentialing process to determine which participants have voting privileges. There is often a limited number of allowed voters, and alternates may be granted voting privileges if there are openings.
What tools do I need?
 How do you talk to each other? Conventions are fundamentally social. The Chair is talking to everybody to provide news and direction. While the Chair does most of the speaking, participants may ask questions or raise motions from the floor.
You will need some conferencing technology, such as Zoom, GotoMeeting, Uberconference. Generally, the Admin should mute everybody after the meeting starts to cut down on background noise and drive things forward. There must be some way for voters to signal they would like to speak, such as Zoom’s “Raise hand” feature.
 How do you manage the names on the ballot? We’re using PetitionBuilder’s recommendation page (“slate”) feature. This lets anybody freely create candidate lists and share them out. Normally, this is just used for making endorsement pages like what you see in a newspaper or county website. (PetitionBuilder also hosts free online petitions)
 How do you credential? You will need to determine who is who, and actively manage who has voting privileges. This is determined on a case-by-case basis, but several successful caucuses have used their normal credential process, adapted for online use. People attending their caucus registered using their email address and uploading their photo ID. This lets them add credentialed emails to QuickVote without having to video conference/sidebar with every person to be sure the correct person was participating.
 How do you vote? You will need some voting mechanism to actually share out ballots and tally the results. Whereas PetitionBuilder provides the list of candidates to display on a ballot, QuickVote handles the actual election process. Conventions have special requirements that rule out most polling applications. They must:
- Securely identity the voter. QuickVote identifies them by requiring users to enter a unique pin that was emailed to them.
- be secure with private ballots but also maintain an anonymous paper audit trail.
- support your conventions specific election bylaws. These may be complicated multi-round rules with delegates, alternates, etc.
- support corner cases like a husband and wife sharing the same email address.
- Support Robert’s Rules of Order and voting on motions from the floor.
What are the biggest challenges?
Here are common themes we’ve seen from virtual conventions so far:
- Basic technology usage – ensure people have a device with reliable access to the internet.
- Users can not accurately self-diagnose – You can’t rely on a user to tell you what’s happening when they encounter technical issues. They may say “I’m at the website” when in reality, they’re just looking at the email you sent them which points to the website. Or they may say “the app crashed” when in reality, they just tabbed away to look at something else. This is why QuickVote has diagnostic features such as automatically reporting to the admin which users are actively online with the election.
- Different client devices – between PCs, Macs, iPads, and Android, plus Chrome vs Safari vs. FireFox vs Edge… you may have 100 users all looking at a slightly different screen. This is going to make trouble shooting more difficult.
- Switching between different apps – Switching between email invitations, Zoom, and a voting app can be confusing.
Checklist (Getting started)
- Ensure your bylaws allow for virtual conventions.
- Decide if you’re taking nominations from the floor. QuickVote will allow you to do this, but the nominations can disrupt the flow of the convention.
- Create your slate page via https://PetitionBuilder.org, and share out to promote your convention.
- Consider a hard requirement to rules that people must be logged in 24 hours prior to the election to participate. If your election is 10 AM on Saturday, you can’t be troubleshooting a hundred first time users at 9:55 asking “where’s my browser?”.
Checklist (T minus 2-weeks)
Here’s a checklist as you get closer to your election date. :
- Hold multiple successful mock elections with your voters with at least 50% participation. This is absolutely critical to trouble shoot technical issues (such as ensuring people have internet connections and can log into their programs) and validate the overall end-2-end flow works. It also gives your users a chance to get comfortable with the idea of remote voting and voice any questions they have. If you’re convention is 10 AM on Saturday, you don’t want everybody trying to log in
- Ensure your candidate lists are up-to-date.
- Load user’s names and emails into your election. Know who’s participating.
- Ensure users have logged into QuickVote at least once. QuickVote will tell the Admin who on the user’s list has never logged in. Followup with these individuals and ensure they have an internet device and are able to participate.
- Have somebody on point to run the technology (Zoom + QuickVote). Often, one person may “chair” the meeting and is effectively the emcee. Another person is administering the technology tools.
- Verify your election is properly configured. It’s easy to ignore this during testing. Double check that the number of winners to elect, the rule set, handling of alternates, etc.
If you’ve gone through all these, then you’ll be all set for your virtual convention!