For decades, Cherryland Electric Cooperative members had to show up at the Annual Meeting to cast a vote in a board election. About one decade ago, members began to receive their annual ballot wrapped around the May issue of Michigan Country Lines magazine.
Over the last decade, we have watched member votes climb from 500 a year to over 1,800 at the peak of mail-in balloting. With 35,000 members, an increase of 360 percent in voting members is still not good enough. So, in an effort to get more people involved in their cooperative, online voting will be available to everyone for the first time in 2017.
Your board and the Election and Credentials Member Committee have both approved the use of Survey and Ballot Systems (SBS). SBS has been working with electric cooperative elections since 1990. They employ third party audits, use best in-class security practices and have industry-leading encryption and authentication measures.
The 2017 election will be a “hybrid” election. This means that members will still get a paper ballot wrapped around the May issue of Country Lines, as well as the new online option and the ability to vote in person at the Annual Meeting. The first vote received will be the one that counts. Online and mail-in ballots will be accepted from May 1 to June 14.
SBS will tabulate all the ballots, both paper and online. One member of the Election and Credentials Committee, a Cherryland member, will serve as a liaison to SBS and the third-party auditor.
Members will be able to access the online voting portal through SmartHub or a website by using a unique ballot ID and an election passcode.
For probably too long, we have gotten this complaint after a member tossed out their magazine and ballot: “What do you mean I can’t get another ballot?” We have been steadfast in “one member, one ballot” in an attempt to keep things simple and hold people accountable.
Now, members will have a 45-day window to vote without having to retain the paper ballot. We are hopeful that this will increase voter turnout, appeal to younger voters and eliminate complaints from busy members who have long desired another voting option.
The cost of online voting has been the biggest hurdle to its implementation. It will add several thousand dollars to our operating expenses. In the long run, we hope to lower costs in a few years if we feel like paper ballots can be eliminated or at least reduced to individual “as needed” requests.
I encourage everyone to take the time to review the candidate information in this issue and online. After that, please vote. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, “Cherryland is not a cooperative of the majority. We are a cooperative of the majority who choose to participate.” In the 78-year history of this cooperative, it has never been easier to cast your vote and make your voice heard.
Keep an eye out for your May issue of Michigan Country Lines! Included will be voting instructions (with your unique ballot I.D. and election passcode), candidate information, and a paper ballot. We will also be sending a follow-up email with instructions for all your voting options.