Have you ever seen a sample ballot for an upcoming local election and realized that you don’t know anything about any of the candidates? It’s much easier to blow off an election, making excuses to yourself about how busy you are, when the names on the slate mean nothing to you.
One of the participants in our benchmark survey told us, “When we conducted non-voter surveys, the biggest reason our members give for not voting is that they do not feel like they know the candidates.”
Michael Boa, Director of Communications and Marketing at the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), found out in a post-election survey of non-voters that his members felt the same way. “Many of our members weren’t familiar with the names on the ballot so they declined to vote. We also found out that members don’t have a lot of time to spend learning about the candidates.”
That’s the key: time. If you provide your voters an easy and quick way to learn about candidates, they will be more likely to vote. As a result of what they learned, CAS increased the amount of information they provided about the candidates but kept it “concise and easily digestible.” Boa said, “When a member has easy access to information about candidates, even just a bite-sized amount of information, we believe he/she is more likely to vote.”
Here’s what CAS now asks each candidate to provide:
- 25-word statement about themselves and/or their candidacy that CAS posts on their online ballot page and includes in election marketing emails. “You’d be surprised how effective a candidate’s statement can be in only 25 words,” said Boa.
- 100-word summary about themselves and/or their candidacy that CAS posts on the website and includes in the newsletter they publish just before the election opens.
Some organizations still like to provide a deeper look at candidates, for example, the American Meteorological Society includes a long bio for each candidate as a pop-up on their online voting page.
The American Association of Clinical Chemistry has a webpage dedicated to long candidate bios, but election administrator Elaine Davis said hardly anyone reads them. “Members get overwhelmed by all that information. They don’t want to take the time to read through the long bios, especially members who wait until the last minute to vote.” Her observation shows why short bios are so important to obtain.
Always include photos of the candidate on your election webpage and online voting platform alongside their biographical or other information. Photos help voters make emotional connections to candidates and increase the likelihood they will vote. You could also ask candidates to provide links to their online profiles, for example, their online community profile, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, website or blog, so voters have another way to check them out.
Publish an election guide.
Election guides help voters determine which candidates are more closely aligned with their views. Many organizations ask candidates a standard set of questions and publish their answers alongside a photo, short bio and links to their website and social profiles. Election guides are published online as part of an election webpage and often included in print or digital magazines.
Videos foster connections.
Photos are good, videos are better. Videos help humanize candidates. Instead of filming a monologue, record a short interview with each candidate. Ask them all the same questions about hot industry or organization issues. But, remember, keep the videos short, ideally under three or four minutes – that means you’ll have to limit how long each candidate takes to answer questions.
You could post a video for each candidate in which they answer all the questions, and you could also post a video for each question answered by all the candidates – either way you’ll have to get your video-editing skills up to speed.
The Special Libraries Association records their candidate videos at their annual conference – a tactic that ensures the videos appear uniform and professional. They post the videos to their YouTube channel where they also upload recorded candidate Q&A sessions and other association videos.
Many of your eligible voters don’t know much, and consequently, don’t care much about your organization’s governance and leadership. Make it incredibly easy for them to learn and care about the election and candidates, so they won’t have any excuses for not taking a few minutes to vote.