Voting by Ballot

When it's important that a member's vote be private, a written ballot is the proper choice. Is a motion controversial? Do some members fear some sort of unpleasantness, even a backlash or retaliation if their vote is known? Members do have the right to make a motion to conduct the vote by written ballot.

How It's Done

A ballot is simply a small piece of paper that may or may not be prepared ahead of time. Perhaps a matter comes up that the membership decides should be voted on in secrecy. If a ballot hasn't been prepared before the meeting, a member would simply write “yes” or “no” on the paper.


Some parliamentarians caution that members should not get to cut a piece of paper for their own ballot because it has led to voting irregularities in the past (that's a euphemism for cheating!). To be on the safe side, it's best for the secretary or chair to distribute a ballot (even if it is blank) for members to write their vote on.

Is there time to prepare a ballot before the meeting? An example of a question on a ballot prepared ahead of time might be, “Shall the club pay for three members to attend the annual conference in Memphis? Circle Yes or No.” (Alternately, members could place an X in a blank marked “Yes” or “No”.)

It Goes in This Box

Ballots can be gathered in several ways. The members who pass out, collect, and tabulate the ballots are called tellers. In large groups or organizations, they may be part of a tellers' committee.

Members can place their ballots in a ballot box that sits near two tellers in the front of the meeting room. The ballots can also be handed to a teller, who then has the opportunity to feel the ballots to make certain that members have not tried to put two or more ballots in the box. Or one teller may pass a ballot box for members to put their ballots inside and have another teller follow behind to make certain no one casts more than one ballot.

The tellers give the results of the vote to the chair, who then announces it. These tellers should be members who can be trusted to be fair and accurate. In a controversial situation, especially a hotly contested election, tellers representing both sides of the debate should be appointed.

Neither Rain Nor Snow Nor Computer Glitches…

Do the bylaws state that ballots for elections and amendments to the bylaws can be sent and received by mail? Then there should be language inserted in the bylaws to detail how this is to be handled.

Some groups have also found that voting that has been done by mail in the past can be done by e-mail. This should be done only if the sender uses an e-mail program that will request a return receipt by the ballot recipient. No one wants a glitch to prevent some members from getting their ballot — or at least saying they didn't when they did! — and challenging the election. Instructions on how to respond should be included.


Convenience can spell problems when using e-mail for votes. E-mail will take away the ability of members to have a secret vote, because as the votes come into the teller's e-mail inbox, they have the senders' name/e-mail name on them.

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