Although COVID-19 is (hopefully) waning, there are still concerns about immediately going back to the way things used to be done at annual meetings. For instance, the most common method pre-pandemic of voting during large meetings was by voice. On any matter to be decided, the presiding officer would ask all those in favor to say “AYE,” and those opposed to say “NO.” With continuing concerns about the virus, both leaders and health professionals have questioned whether hundreds or thousands of delegates should all be yelling in a crowded room at the same time, masked or not.
There are alternatives to voting by voice. Some organizations with the capability and resources have gone electronic. Such platforms can vary from voting by electronic handheld devices provided to members to cell phone apps to an online voting site accessed through electronic device during the meeting. Depending on method and size of the organization, there can be costs and often a learning curve. While voting electronically can give an exact count (and is extremely valuable when delegates carry different numbers of votes or some members are participating remotely), it also alters the dynamics of the room to more passive participation. Voting electronically during conventions is similar to using a remote control for a television–it is quiet and feels different from active member participation voice or standing vote.
Voting cards are a low-budget alternative to voice votes in large meetings. The technique is described only briefly in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th Edition) as a “brightly colored cardboard card, approximately three inches wide and a foot long” traditionally used in some political conventions. RONR (12th ed.) 45:16. A more common practice is for delegates to be given a larger sheet, most often cardstock measuring 8½” by 11″. Then, when the presiding officer calls for a vote, the language is to the effect of “Those in favor of Bylaws Amendment #3, raise your card. . . Those opposed, raise your card.” (Some organizations use two cards, with “AYE” printed on a green card and “NO” on the red.) Whatever the specifics, “If this method of voting is to be used, it must be authorized by a special rule of order or, in a convention, by a convention standing rule.” RONR (12th ed.) 45:16.
Voting cards have several benefits. Seeing the vote makes it easier to determine whether a matter has passed or failed than a voice vote alone, even when a vote requires a two-thirds or other percentage vote. Since the members see the vote in real-time, there will be less need for members to challenge the vote through a Division after a voice vote. Finally, voting cards can be cheaper and less confusing than electronic voting and feel more participatory than electronic devices, especially if ongoing health concerns make voting by voice a questionable health option.
Jim Slaughter is an attorney, Certified Professional Parliamentarian, Professional Registered Parliamentarian, past President of the American College of Parliamentary Lawyers, and author of four books on meeting procedure.