If you have any experience with elections or ballot voting, you know that balloting works best if it’s well-organized. Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure agree. Drafting a clear ballot is a key step in that process. Today, I’m giving you a step-by-step for how to do it.
Step 1: Start Early
Hear me on this one. Ballot drafting is not one of those do-the-night-before, “oh-you-know-me-I’m-just-a-procrastinator-lol” sort of things. Yes, I do know that there are times when the landscape shifts on the eve of an election or meeting. But even the crazy that ensues during those times is minimized if you have a solidly drafted ballot ready to go—one that just needs minor edits if you have a last‑minute change.
So, start drafting the ballot as soon as you know the individuals the nominating committee is going to recommend, or as soon as you know the wording of a resolution that will require a ballot vote. There’s really no reason to wait.
Step 2: Draft Simple Instructions
A good ballot has a sentence at the top that tells the voter what to do. You might be thinking, “How complicated can this be? Just put an X by your favorite person.” I get that. But ballot voting falls in the zone of “Don’t make any assumptions about people’s logic or smarts.” Tell the voters exactly what you want them to do.
I’ll provide a couple of examples of ballot instructions:
For an officer election: “Circle or write in one candidate for each office.”
For an election of several board members: “There are 5 board positions open for the 2022‑2023 term. Circle and/or write in no more than 5 candidates.”
For a resolution: “Put an X next to ‘Adopt’ or ‘Do not adopt.’” OR “Put an X next to ‘In favor’ or ‘Opposed.’”
Step 3: Make the Choices Clear
If you’re voting for only one office or action on a ballot, making the choices clear is pretty easy. But if you’re voting for several offices on one ballot, it’s critical to make sure the ballot clearly states which candidates are nominees for each office. And, if there’s only one candidate for an office, check to make sure your bylaws require a ballot. If not, you can elect by acclamation—a fancy word for either a voice vote or election by loud clapping.
Step 4: Include Space for Write-Ins
Unless your bylaws say that no nominations from the floor or write-ins are allowed, your ballot should always include a prompt and blanks where members can write in their favorite choice if they don’t see that person listed.
We’re talking about a couple core values of parliamentary procedure here: clarity and efficiency. You’ll never regret making the voting process cut and dry for everybody involved. A little attention to careful ballot-making goes a long way.