Recently, I wrote about two Los Angeles teachers working to bring online voting and electronic caucusing to their teachers union, UTLA. This move would provide more reliable, more accessible, and more timely elections than conventional paper balloting, at a fraction of the cost.

This goal is already a reality for their fellow teachers in Oakland.

A Simple Start

Last spring, Oakland Education Association teachers Benjie Achtenberg, Barbara Kass, and Dierdre Snyder drafted a simple amendment to the general election rules. After the words “All elections will be by written secret ballot,” they added “and/or electronic voting.”

It was pretty simple, and membership approved it overwhelmingly in May.

“As OEA election chairs, we had been pretty fed up with the way the paper voting went,” Barbara commented.

“OEA, like UTLA, does not have reps at all sites, and has not had accurate lists of who is at a school site, either — or even the names of the schools,” she said. “We felt strongly that to really give everyone a chance to vote, it needed to be on an individual basis rather than site-based.

“And that’s not to mention the huge waste of time printing materials and packaging them to send to sites, and hiring subs to drive them all there… So we were determined to get this going.”

Challenge in Implementation

It proved difficult to move from decision to enactment, however. It’s one thing to agree to online voting, but if the election chairs work full-time as teachers, who would take on the job of turning it into reality?

It turns out that the California Teachers Association had already started down the road of online voting, so could help with some of the heavy lifting.

CTA made voter registration easier by allowing members to register on its website. Additionally, the CTA makes this membership database available to an approved list of online election vendors to support e-voting access.

“CTA has authorized the vendors to use the FALCON membership database,” added Dierdre. “I'm finding that aspect really satisfying. It empowers the members to check their membership registration information, and then do something about it on the same visit.”

Benjie laments that OEA, like UTLA, tends to be very factionalized. Representative Council meetings are often “long and disaster-filled, with little done after three hours of motions and counter-motions.” (Calls to mind my description of UTLA’s House of Representatives.)

He’s hopeful the move to online voting and caucusing will help focus the union’s decision-making process.

Early Returns Bode Well for Online Voting

The OEA elections committee has already found online voting to be easier, more accessible, and more responsive to membership.

Though their first online election just closed this week, Barbara reports that they are already very happy with the vendor they chose.

“They have been most helpful! The union office discovered a mistake which resulted in having to add to the ballot, erase the first day of voting, and re-send explanations and a new e-ballot to every member.

“The mistake was much easier to fix than if we had been using paper ballots.”