We are very pleased with the high voter turnout in our first-ever Board election offering an email voting option. We more than doubled last year’s record vote tally, with about 20% of our owner-members participating in this year’s election. That is outstanding participation compared both to our own history and to co-ops across the country.
Of those casting a ballot, 79% voted online, with the remainder voting via mail, at the Co-op or at the Annual Meeting. The accompanying chart shows Just Food’s voter participation in 2012-2017 within each group of 500 owner numbers. As you can see, when online voting was added this year, voting rose dramatically across all member groups. Our earliest members still lead the way in voting, but we had strong participation across the full range of owners.
The Voting Process
Voting was managed by the Simply Voting organization, which has managed quite a few other co-op elections as well as many others. For a cost that compared very favorably to Just Food’s expenses in printing and mailing all election materials last year, Simply Voting offered a secure online platform for ballot information and voting and managed the election mailing and follow-up emails. Each owner-member was mailed a letter that provided the password to be used with that member number to access election information and vote online. The letter included a paper ballot that could be mailed back to Simply Voting for those who preferred to vote that way.
To keep costs down, the lengthy information about the six candidates and the two ballot questions was provided online and in-store rather than being included in the letter. Any owner who preferred to receive their full election packet by mail was invited to call or email the Co-op to request that. While this process probably wasn’t ideal for every owner, we know that the great majority of owners do have online access and we felt it was more financially and environmentally prudent than printing and mailing all the materials to more than 3,000 owners. No owners requested to have a print packet sent to them. Printed election materials and additional ballots were also made available in the store and at the Annual Meeting.
We did have one unexpected complication. We intended to provide postage-paid return envelopes to make it extra-easy for owners to mail ballots to Simply Voting. Due to Simply Voting’s mistake, the return envelopes provided in the mailing did not include the return postal indicia (which, to clarify, only results in Just Food’s paying the cost of postage if the envelope is actually mailed). Simply Voting realized the error, fully accepted responsibility, and significantly reduced their bill to Just Food as a result. Just Food staff did their best to notify owners to explain the situation, and voters were free either to put their own stamp on the envelope and mail it (thank you to those who did!) or to pick up a stamp at the Co-op and drop their envelope in the mail. We regret any confusion that resulted, but the large voting turnout was reassuring.
All ballots that were mailed to Simply Voting were added to the online vote tally. These results were provided to Just Food via email after online voting closed at 2 p.m. on October 17. The results also included a registry of owner numbers, associated owner names, and a simple Yes/No indication of whether a vote had already been registered to that owner number. No information was supplied to Just Food indicating how anyone voted, only whether they voted.
Two Board members counted the additional paper ballots cast at the store or at the Annual Meeting. They compared the owner number and name on each ballot to Simply Voting’s list, and in a very few instances disqualified a duplicate ballot when records showed that a ballot had already been cast for that owner number. We know that occasionally two members of an owner household don’t fully communicate with each other and try to vote more than once. It’s also possible that some owners forgot that they had voted, and voted again. Each owner number is entitled to one vote.
In the December/January ComPost, you can read board president Dirk Peterson’s announcement of the results of the Board of Directors election and also read an introduction to your new Board members. This year’s ballot also included two questions for the owners. Both ballot questions passed by wide margins.
Question 1 asked the owners to approve a modest compensation structure for Board members. Up until now, Just Food Board members have served without compensation. It is unusual for co-ops of Just Food’s size, age and financial health to have uncompensated boards. Question 1 passed with 473 in favor and 111 opposed.
Question 2 proposed some changes to the bylaws governing eligibility to run for or serve on the Board. The changes were intended to address situations where serious conflicts of interest exist. Question 2 passed with 545 in favor and 40 opposed.
We are pleased at the positive response to online voting. We are committed to making it easy for all owner-members to be informed about our elections and to vote. We are also committed to being good stewards of our financial and environmental resources. We hope we struck that balance well this year, but we welcome your feedback on our election process. How well did it work for you? Please share your thoughts via email at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail to the Board of Directors, Just Food Co-op, 516 Water St. S., Northfield MN 55057; or in person when you see one of us or at our monthly Coffee with the Board events at the Co-op.
Thank you for your enthusiastic participation in Cooperative Principle #2: democratic owner control!