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The No.1 Mistake People Make in Elections

The single most common Robert’s Rules mistake that people make in elections is removing the candidate with the lowest number of votes from the ballot after the first round. Let me explain.

Election by Ballot Happens One of Two Ways

Organizations that elect officers or board members by ballot tend to follow one of two balloting options.

  • Option 1 is to take nominations for all offices at once and put all of the open offices on a single ballot—for example, “President,” “Vice President,” “Secretary,” “Treasurer,” etc. all on one piece of paper.
  • Option 2 is to take nominations for each office separately and vote for each one on a separate ballot—for example, one ballot for President, a separate ballot for Vice President, etc.

The advantage of Option 1 is efficiency, which is a legitimate consideration in large groups where balloting can take considerable time.

If time isn’t a huge consideration, Option 2 is a good choice because it allows members to consider the results of the election for each office as they vote on candidates for the other offices.

Of course, if you’re voting to fill several open spots of same type—e.g., at-large directors—all of the open positions and nominees should be listed on the same ballot.

What If No One Wins on the First Round of Ballots?

Regardless of which balloting option a group chooses, there’s a fair possibility that for at least one of the open positions, multiple voting rounds will be needed. Here’s why, and here’s how to handle it.

First, remember that a candidate must have at least a majority of the votes cast to win an election, unless your bylaws allow election by plurality.

A quick refresher on definitions…

  • Majority means at least half of the members in good standing that are both present and voting unless your bylaws specify a different threshold such as a majority of those present or a majority of the entire membership.
  • Plurality means more votes than anyone else but less than a majority. 

If there’s a majority for an office, as defined above, you have a winner and are good to go for that office. But if, for any of the offices, no candidate receives a majority on the first round of ballots, then you need to distribute another round of ballots and ask everyone to vote again. As you complete additional rounds of voting, the ballots should include only the offices for which no one has received a majority thus far.

Let me insert a special word about calculating a majority in the case of Option 1 above—the all-offices-on-one-ballot method. If you’re following Option 1, calculate the majority separately for each office. This is important because even though all offices are listed at one time on one ballot, voters may choose to vote for only some of the offices, leaving other offices without a vote or selection. Majority—as defined above—is determined based on the total number present and voting. So, the majority needed to win may differ between offices because the number of voters has differed. Count votes carefully.

Second, and this is the main point of this post—know that the second round of ballots (and every round after that if needed to find a majority) must include all of the candidates for that office. That’s right. I know you really want to remove that lowest vote-getter. But Robert’s Rules says, don’t do it.

Here’s the rationale: If you remove the lowest vote-getter, you’re assuming that the members who voted for that lowest vote-getter on round one will rally around the remaining candidate(s) and you’ll be able to secure a majority and move on.

But that may not happen. And according to Robert’s Rules, the tellers (ballot managers) or leaders of the group can’t unilaterally deny a candidate the right to stay on the ballot.

Besides, you never know what the factions of a group might do after several rounds of balloting. You’d be surprised how members’ views can shift as they reconsider who’s in the running or start to analyze the voting results. When a majority doesn’t emerge immediately, sometimes everyone rallies around the dark horse.

If this rule bothers you, and I can understand why it might, there are a couple of workaround options.

1. A candidate can voluntarily withdraw his name from candidacy and eliminate the need to continue balloting.

2. The group can suspend the rules or adopt a special rule to remove the person with the fewest votes from the ballot after a certain number of balloting rounds.

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