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VSB looks to online ballots for elections

The Virginia State Bar is considering using the Internet as well as the post office in elections for VSB offices.

Under the VSB’s proposal, lawyers initially would choose whether to vote online or to receive and return a paper ballot. A membership task force concluded that online voting would save money and would likely increase the votes cast in elections for Bar Council and president-elect.

Even if approved by the VSB Council this fall, however, the online ballot system could not be ready in time for November’s election for VSB president-elect. Mail ballots will decide this year’s contest between Kevin Martingayle and Ray Benzinger.

The VSB is asking for comments about the rule changes proposed by the VSB membership task force. The proposed change would leave it to the VSB executive director to decide how to distribute election ballots.

VSB executive director Karen Gould said switching over to online balloting would save the bar staff from having to send and count paper ballots, but that’s not her primary objective. “Ultimately, for me, it’s about increasing the number of people who vote,” she said.

In two contested elections for Bar Council memberships in April, the ballots received totaled just over 30 percent of the VSB members in good standing who were eligible to vote.

One state that switched to a web-based voting system saw a 90-percent participation in a bar election, although that was a hotly contested race, Gould said.

Electronic voting would be handled through a contract with a private firm, Gould explained. She said she has researched how other state bars have handled the practice.

Electronic votes are cast on a website, not by email. The systems run by private vendors have controls to make sure no one votes more than once.

The deadline for comments is Sept. 30 and Gould said she hopes the proposed changes can be voted on at an October Bar Council meeting.

-By Peter Vieth

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