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Electronic voting for Council elections

01 Jul 2022 / Law Society Print

Your vote – your choice

At a special general meeting on 3 March 2022, an overwhelming 96% of members voted to introduce electronic voting for Council elections. Peter McKenna urges all to cast their e-vote in Council Election 2022.

Elections to Council are held every year, in which 15-16 ordinary members and two provincial delegates are elected to serve for a two-year period. These elections are extremely important. The Council is the governing body of the Law Society and, at its essence, is responsible for shaping and developing the future of our profession – and, for most of us, our profession is our livelihood.

It is a profession undergoing much change, facing challenges from all manner of directions, and operating in an environment that is constantly in flux. Therefore, members of the Council play an important role in influencing the direction of our profession and, by extension, our trade.

Having a say as to who represents us on the Council, it would be expected that voting return rates by members would be high, given the Council’s important role. In fact, it’s only about 24%. This has been steadily declining over recent years, with returned postal votes down 30% since 2019. More concerning, however, is that returned votes declined by almost 12% between 2020-2021 after the return to work, when an increase would have been expected. It became obvious that something had to change.

Critical mass

The operational challenges posed by the COVID pandemic led to the accelerated adoption of electronic communication technology by our profession. A critical mass of members now had the ability to connect remotely and engage electronically with the Law Society.

Less friction

On the Technology Committee, we were aware that Chartered Accountants Ireland immediately saw a sharp increase in returned election votes upon that body’s adoption of e-voting.

Therefore, in mid-2021, we set about investigating the potential benefits and practicalities of e-voting for our profession.

We found that, typically, e-voters have a better voting experience, with less friction. They are able to vote more easily and efficiently. E-voting is more accessible than traditional voting systems, facilitating voters who live or work in remote areas, may be on holidays during the voting window, are on maternity leave, have disabilities for whom the practicalities of postal voting can be challenging, and who cannot/do not wish to leave their house (for example, due to familial demands or a health condition).

E-voting protected the health of the most vulnerable voters and improved the accessibility of voters with functional diversity. Typically, there was also a 75-80% cost saving.

Our investigations found that e-voting was the main form of voting for many professions, such as the aforementioned Chartered Accountants Ireland, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

We also spoke to members who used e-voting at AGMs when serving on various boards for large organisations. The reports we received were overwhelmingly positive.

Therefore, a motion was successfully brought to the AGM of the Law Society last November advocating for its introduction and, on 3 March 2022, at a special general meeting of the Law Society, 96% of the attending members approved amendments to the bye-laws to introduce e-voting as the means of voting in the Council elections.

The strong support for the use of such technologies was fully reflected in the fact that ten times more voters attended the SGM remotely than in person. It was a significant moment.

By introducing the ability to e-vote, we reformed our voting system and brought it firmly into the 21st century. It was one small step in amending the bye-laws, but one giant leap forward in how we now communicate and engage as a profession.

So, what is e-voting?

E-voting is a user-friendly election system that allows members to cast their votes electronically, which can be either through a website, mobile app, or any internet-connected device (such as a personal computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone) at the location of the member’s choice.

At its core, an e-voting system facilitates encrypted voting that is secret and secure and protects the integrity of the vote by preventing voters from being able to vote multiple times. It eliminates the need to cast votes using paper, and closely scrutinises the results in real time, reducing the cost and time involved in sending out, collecting, and counting votes.

Where are we now?

Since the AGM in November, an impressive internal Law Society project team, with oversight from the Technology Committee, has devoted a significant amount of time and effort into researching e-voting solutions adopted by other professions and organisations. Market-leading providers of such services were identified and researched.

Following the SGM, requests for proposals went out to three internationally renowned and reputable e-voting providers. At the time of writing, a preferred provider has been chosen, with extensive experience in providing such services, both nationally and internationally.

The chosen system we expect to employ will include many of the common features in e-voting systems successfully adopted by other professions, both in Ireland and elsewhere. At present, it is envisaged that it will work as follows:

  • An email will be sent to members with a secure link that the voter clicks on, which will bring them to the voting page that allows for a single sign-on vote.
  • Alternatively, voters will be able to log on to the Law Society’s website, go to the voting page, and cast their ballot securely.
  • The voting platform will contain all relevant election information regarding the candidates.
  • After a member votes, they will be taken to a page telling them they have successfully voted. This page will include a link to their voter receipt, showing how they voted. This will not identify the individual voter, but will include a receipt ID to which only the voter has access.
  • Members will be advised regarding the voting timeframe window (that is, the dates between which votes can be cast), and the ability to e-vote will end exactly at the designated deadline date and time.
  • The total votes submitted will be tallied immediately thereafter, and an electronic report generated containing details regarding the turnout, votes per candidate, and the overall results for the scrutineers to review and certify.

Advantages of e-voting

The preferred system has been selected because:

  • It meets and/or exceeds industry standards for security and data protection,
  • It provides for a secure ballot that allows only eligible voters to vote,
  • It is configurable to allow for secondary ballots that are restricted to voters from specific geographical areas (for example, in provincial elections),
  • It allows a voter to review their vote before submission,
  • It allows a voter to vote just once.

As stated above, the system will be user-friendly, but we appreciate that a crucial aspect to the successful implementation of e-voting is communication. Therefore, we will be providing members with regular updates, a user guide, FAQs, and an instructional guidance video. Reminder emails will be sent to members to achieve optimal voting returns.

The members voted for change, and the Law Society has listened and acted. Steps have been taken to put in place a voting system that makes it easier and far more accessible for our members to vote.

In October and November, when the time comes to cast your vote, there is now no excuse not to make your voice heard! 

Read and print a PDF of this article here.

Peter McKenna
Peter McKenna is a partner in McKenna Durcan, solicitors, and is vice-chair of the Law Society’s Technology Committee.