In 2020 and 2021 the American Council of the Blind (ACB) Board of Directors voted to hold our regular in-person conference and convention virtually because of the health risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This move to a virtual conference and convention was made to ensure the health and wellness of our members during this national emergency. While the current conference configuration does provide greater opportunity for more members to participate in conference sessions our ability to conduct in-person elections was impacted in 2020. In 2020 the 5 members of the Board of Directors agreed to retain their office for one year while, ACB proposed a solution to provide a process to ensure remote voting. Following the boards direction to hold the 2021 conference virtually a process for remote voting was needed to provide elections for officers, board members and Board of Publications (BOP) directors. Under our current Constitution and By-Laws all elections need to be conducted in-person at our regular Conference and Convention. However, an exception has been made for those organizations incorporated in the District of Columbia, of which ACB is one, to allow for remote voting at conferences during a national emergency. The current D.C. emergency code provisions expire in May 2021, but we fully expect them to be extended.
The D.C. Code: 29-405.01 (a) Remote Member Meetings
The D.C. Non-Profit Corporation Act requires membership corporations to hold annual meetings.
“Section 29-405.01 (a) A membership corporation shall hold a meeting of members annually at a time stated in or fixed in accordance with the articles of incorporation or bylaws.
The D.C. Code views the terms “constitution” and “bylaws” as interchangeable.
Article III C. Voting: of the ACB Constitution reads “Each voting member attending an annual conference and convention shall be entitled to one (1) vote …”.
The D.C. nonprofit code, section 29–405.01, allows for regular and annual meetings to be conducted electronically, if allowed in the organization's articles and bylaws. The statute reads:
(e) The articles of incorporation or bylaws may provide that an annual or regular meeting of members does not need to be held at a geographic location if the meeting is held by means of the Internet or other electronic communications technology in a fashion pursuant to which the members have the opportunity to read or hear the proceedings substantially concurrently with their occurrence, vote on matters submitted to the members, pose questions, and make comments.
This language was modified in 2020 to allow for regular and annual meetings to occur electronically during the pendency of the COVID-19 pandemic even if they are not explicitly allowed in the articles/bylaws. The revised language now reads:
(e) Notwithstanding the articles of incorporation or bylaws, during a period for which a public health emergency has been declared pursuant to [§ 7-2304.01], an annual or regular meeting of members does not need to be held at a geographic location if the meeting is held by means of the Internet or other electronic communications technology in a fashion pursuant to which the members have the opportunity to read or hear the proceedings substantially concurrently with their occurrence, vote on matters submitted to the membership, pose questions, and make comments.
This exception does provide ACB a challenge and an opportunity to hold elections for candidates who wish to run for any of the 5 officers, 5 board members and 3 BOP director positions.
At a special board meeting held on October 13th following the Boards decision to hold a virtual convention in 2021, the ACB president with board concurrence established the Voting Task Force charged with recommending a process to provide remote voting for the 2021 conference and convention. The members of this Task Force were approved by the board on November 13th at the fall board meeting. The current Task Force consists of 18 individuals, (5 ACB staff and 13 ACB members) who have expertise in areas that relate to our recommendations. This Task Force has met 5 times to discuss related Constitution and By-Law issues, potential remote voting solutions and a communication plan for outreach purposes using our current communication channels.
Task Force Assumptions
The proposed remote voting process applies only to the 2021 Conference and Convention
- This remote voting only applies to ACB elections (5 directors, 5 officers, and 3 BOP positions. Thus, we will not vote on any constitutional or by-law amendments at the 2021 convention. Resolutions will be handled in the similar manner as they were in 2020, with input from the membership followed by final action from the board of directors.)
- In implementing the 2021 proposed voting structure, we will comply with the Constitution and By-Law provisions except where our articles of incorporation do not allow for remote voting.
- Remote Voting will apply only to the current standing vote, ACB will conduct the roll call vote as usual.
The text that needs to be revised to the convention standing rules for 2021 is: “During the 2021 virtual conference and convention, we will insure all members eligible to have the ability to cast their individual votes via a secret ballot. However, as it is not feasible to do so using paper as prescribed in By-law 2, Section D of the ACB Constitution and By-laws, said By-law section is suspended only for the 2021 conference and convention per requirements of the District of Columbia Non-Profit code.”
The Task Force also wants to include a question on the ballot as to whether the membership wants to have remote voting in the future. The Task Force Will Modify the standing rules to provide for remote voting.
The Task Force agreed that any remote voting process must include to the greatest extent possible, security, ballot verification, and privacy. The recommended process must also provide electronic and phone access.
Task Force Recommendations
The Task Force discussed several options to provide remote voting including a highly manual process staffed by ACB volunteers to assist in the voting. Although some affiliates have used processes like this in their state elections this was deemed cumbersome and unworkable for a national election. The electronic voting systems that were evaluated needed to have an accessible user interface, work on multiple platforms, provide phone access for those individuals who wish to vote by phone or need assistance and meet all other security and verification requirements. This Task Force looked at 3 systems, Election Runner, Election Buddy and Vote Now. Election Runner did not support phone access and Election Buddy was not keyboard accessible. At its February 9th meeting the Voting Task Force recommended the use of the Vote Now system to provide remote voting access for the 2021 conference. This system has the ability to produce the necessary ballots in 30 minutes, has an accessible interface which supports Mac and PC’s, supports telephone access and will supply phone assistance (live operators) when necessary. It also is a secure system with the necessary verification processes in place and allows for independent voting. Everyone that is a member of ACB by the record date, June 16th, is eligible to vote. We will make sure a quorum of voters is in attendance. Individual codes will be given to each member who is eligible to vote. Elections will be held throughout the week. Elections will be held during the week of general session. Standing Rules will be followed and past practices will be adhered to as much as possible. 1. Voice vote to be used when candidate runs unopposed 2. Run offs will apply to the top 2 candidates 3. No write in candidates will be allowed. During general sessions we will continue to have roll call votes, nomination speeches, and candidate’s acceptance speeches. The approximate cost for this system will be between $15,000 and $20,000 and it will support all our elections for the week including any necessary run-off elections. Vote Now also has the advantage of having a track record within ACB, Guide Dog Users Incorporated (GDUI) has been using this system successfully for the last 5 years.