Online Balloting: A Step Forward for the AHA
AHA Staff, September 2005
From the AHA Activities column of the September 2005 Perspectives
By the time members read this, they will know that they now have the opportunity to vote online to elect the Association’s officers. The AHA Council took this decision at its June 2005 meeting to make the election process easier and more efficient. Because this was quite different from the Association’s traditional balloting process, members who provided valid e-mail addresses and agreed to receive messages were polled through an e-mail message.
Members who did not provide an e-mail address for the membership database, did not respond to our inquiry, or who elected to receive a paper ballot, should be receiving the printed ballot around the same time as this issue of Perspectives. Those who opted for the online ballot will have received an e-mail notice about how to cast the vote online on or after September 1, 2005, and until midnight EST of November 1, 2005, the official closing of the balloting. Even members who opted for the paper ballot can still go online and vote using the number and password provided on the printed ballot. However, each member can only cast one vote. The first vote received—either on the printed ballot sent by mail or through the online ballot—will be the only one that will be counted.
How the E-Voting Works
Some members may justifiably be concerned about the security of the ballots and the secrecy of the votes. Please be assured that staff carefully vetted a number of balloting services. After weighing the needs for state-of-the-art online security, a system that could allow voting by both print and electronic ballots, and still ensure the privacy of each vote, Election Services Corporation (ESC) was selected. ESC has been conducting elections for more than 20 years for professional associations with membership size ranging from 5,000 to more than two million. Based in Garden City, N.Y., ESC has conducted more than 6,000 elections worldwide. Their clients include the Sierra Club, U.S. Democratic National Committee, Merrill Lynch, American Association of Diabetes Educators, American Public Health Association, and the American College of Physicians.
ESC will accept the sole responsibility for preparation and distribution of election ballots to AHA members, and will receive, validate, and tally the votes for the elections. Furthermore, they will certify the election results, as well as provide an audit trail that will indicate whether and when a ballot was cast, without identifying a specific individual’s vote.
In addition to assuring the integrity of the balloting process, ESC provides:
- 24-hour, 7 days-a-week help desk service for the duration of the election, should members need a replacement ballot, technical assistance in voting online, or other information regarding the voting process.
- Verification of AHA membership and a system check to assure that only one vote is accepted per member, whether the member chooses to vote electronically or by traditional paper ballot.
- Internet server and bandwidth capacity to allow voting members access to Internet voting within 15 seconds, even during peak access hours.
The election results will be tabulated, validated, confirmed, signed, and delivered to the AHA within 24 hours of the polls closing—a much faster return rate then with just the paper ballots. The results of the elections will be burned to a CD and sent, along with any paper ballots or white mail received during the election, to the AHA to be stored at 400 A Street, SE for one year, as required by the AHA Constitution and bylaws.
All AHA members wanting to vote electronically will have received an e-mail message with a unique computer-generated user name and password, which will be good only for the online balloting system. Once they successfully log in, members will be able to read the election rules and link to the ballot, which will also be linked to candidate biographies. After completing the voting, members will be taken to a voting verification page that allows them to review their votes and to submit them. A link on this page will allow a member who wishes to change a vote to go back to the ballot for revising the vote before submitting it. After making changes, the member can return to the verification page and submit the vote. Once a vote is submitted, the member will not be able to make any changes or submit any other votes. If members try to log back in after casting an electronic vote (or after their mailed ballot has been registered into the system), they would be taken to a "Thank you for already voting" page. The system allows for only one ballot per member—again, the first ballot received by ESC, whether that ballot was submitted online or is a paper ballot, is the one that will be counted.
Members who lack a valid e-mail address, or who request the paper ballot, will be mailed a paper ballot by September 1. The procedures for paper ballots will be essentially the same as in previous years. After filling out the ballot, the member mails it back to ESC, which then enters it into the system. In theory, a member could receive both an e-mail and a paper ballot. Since the system tracks whether someone voted, separate from their specific votes, the system will only accept the first vote received and entered into the system from that voter (but without identifying the specific voter).
Individuals renewing their membership or joining the AHA for the first time will also be allowed to vote in the election. Anyone renewing or joining before October 17, 2005, will be able to vote online or request a paper ballot. Although no paper ballots will be mailed out after October 17 (because the remaining time may be insufficient for members to receive and return the ballots to ESC before the deadline of November 1, 2005), those who renew or join before October 17 can vote online until the midnight of November 1.
Every online voting session on the ESC site is encrypted through the Secure Sockets Layer technology (certified by VeriSign, Inc., the company that provides widely trusted SSL certification used in billions of e-commerce transactions).
Timeline for the election
- September 1, 2005: the election opens online and paper ballots are mailed.
- September–November 1, 2005: ESC monitors elections and holds weekly teleconference with the AHA to make sure the process is running appropriately.
- October 17, 2005: deadline to request a paper ballot. Anyone renewing a membership or joining the Association after this date will only be able to vote electronically.
- November 1, 2005: AHA elections close. ESC begins process of tallying both electronic and paper ballots.
- November 2, 2005: ESC sends AHA election results.
- November 3–6, 2005: AHA contacts candidates with results.