A Beginner’s Guide for Tellers: How to Collect Ballots and Count Votes

If you’ve been asked to be a teller for a meeting, you have an important job. Yes, your job includes collecting ballots and counting votes. But really, your No. 1 job is to instill confidence in the membership—confidence that the vote was fair, and that the results are accurate. Hopefully, you’ve been hand selected because the people in charge think you’ll be a rock star teller. Here’s what you need to do to live up to that title.

Make a Plan for Collecting Ballots

Collecting ballots is simple if you remember that you have three big goals: (1) Avoid mayhem. (2) Make sure only members vote. And (3) make sure no member votes more than once unless he’s holding a proxy for another member. To accomplish these goals, you have to make a plan for how to collect the ballots. Here are some choices:

  • If only members are present, or if you have a members-only section, one teller can pass a ballot box while another teller watches to make sure each member only votes once.
  • If members and non-members are present in the same space, members can leave their seats and go to a ballot box where at least two tellers watch to make sure that only members are voting and that they are only voting once.

Once you’ve decided on a plan, tell the chair before the meeting so that she can instruct the members about what to do once they’ve filled out their ballot.

Count the Ballots in a Private Room

Some groups require ballots to be counted in the presence of the group. If not, stake out a quiet, private place ahead of the meeting and make sure it’s reserved for you to use for counting ballots. (Hint: The lobbies outside the convention hall or staff headquarters do not usually fit the definition of a quiet, private place.)

Have a Method for Counting Votes

Let’s get one thing straight: Counting votes does not mean you dump the ballot box out on the table, let every teller grab a few ballots and count ‘em up, and then huddle when you’re done to total.

Ideally, counting ballot votes looks like this: 

  1. Empty the contents of the ballot box onto a table.
  2. Have two tellers check the ballot box to make sure it is completely empty.
  3. Divide tellers into pairs that can work together.
  4. Divide ballots into piles (randomly—no special sorting) for each pair of tellers.
  5. Have one teller in each pair unfold the ballots in his pile while the other teller in that pair watches for two ballots folded/stuck together.
  6. Once all ballots are unfolded, regroup tellers into groups of three: a reading teller, a writing teller, and a watching teller.
  7. The reading teller in each group says out loud the contents of each ballot while the watching teller observes to make sure the ballot is accurately read.
  8. During this reading, questionable ballots (e.g., two folded together, illegible ballots, etc.) are set aside for review.
  9. When the reading teller says the contents of the ballot, the writing teller makes a tally on a blank sheet of paper, and the watching teller observes to make sure the tally mark goes next to the right person/choice.
  10. When all the ballots in a pile are counted, the reading and writing teller work together to total the votes tallied on that recording sheet while the watching teller checks their math.
  11. Questionable ballots are reviewed by the group of tellers. If necessary, the group sets them aside for consideration by the entire assembly.
  12. Totals from all recording sheets are tallied, entered on the tellers’ report, and double-checked.

You, as a teller, have a big job. Your careful work gives your whole organization confidence that votes are being handled responsibly according to parliamentary procedure. Organize your team, your stuff and your process, and do this thing.

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