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.
In being asked for several recent convention about methods of voting other than voice or electronic, what is old may be new again: voting cards. That is, green and red voting cards used by large annual meetings for all votes. This is a low-budget technique that has been used successfully by some unions for decades. “Voting cards” are only described briefly in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th Edition) and the description there is focused on a “brightly colored card, approximately three inches wide and a foot long” traditionally used in some political conventions. RONR (12th ed.) 45:16.
That’s not the type of voting card some of my associations have used for years. Instead, delegates are given two cards–most often card stock, one green and one red, measuring about paper sized 8½” by 11″. Often, in large letters the green cards says “AYE” and the red cards “NO.” Then, when the presiding officer calls for a vote, the language is to the effect of “All those in favor of Bylaws Amendment #3, raise your green card. . . Those opposed, raise your red card.” (If only one card, the language can be shortened to, “All those in favor of Bylaws Amendment #3, raise your card. . . Those opposed, raise your card.” (FYI, Robert’s states that “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. Even in a close vote, seeing the vote makes it easier to determine whether a matter has passed or failed than a voice vote alone, even if a vote requires a two-thirds or other percentage vote. Since delegates see the vote in real-time, there will be less need for members to challenge the vote through a division (rising vote) after a voice vote. For associations looking for alternatives to voice votes, voting cards can be cheaper and less confusing than electronic voting. Finally, voting cards allow delegates to be more participatory than when using electronic device, especially if ongoing health concerns make voting by voice a questionable health option.
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