Do online votes aid union democracy?

Union Democracy and Electronic Vote

One of the FIQ Santé convention workshops Nuku and I attended was on a topical issue for NZNO members – Union democracy in the age of electronic voting.

NZNO has limited experience with online voting. It’s been used to elect board members since 2011. Turnout in these elections hasn’t topped 14 per cent. In 2012, 6.52 per cent of members voted in the online referendum on adopting the NZNO constitution.

A one-off, localised trial during multi-employer collective agreement bargaining in 2011 saw just 6.64 per cent of members at Capital & Coast DHB vote electronically to endorse the negotiating team and the claims – well below the national average.

Such limited experience meant the FIQ Santé workshop was valuable.

The facilitator defined union democracy as: “The opportunity for any member of a trade union to develop informed opinions on the objectives of their organisation and on the means to achieve them, on the one hand, and the opportunity to express these opinions in such a way that the union is governed by the majority of these opinions expressed, on the other hand.”

This requires a formal framework of power for the union’s administration, the ability for members to influence decisions, cohesion among members and transparency and responsiveness from administrators.

FIQ Santé research has found electronic voting can lift turnout in elections, as long as members know the candidates and the voting process.

In bargaining, meanwhile, the research found the participation rate was only slightly higher for the electronic vote.

Potential disadvantages with electronic voting were also identified – possible weakening of collectivity, confidentiality issues, increased cost and difficulties maintaining up-to-date email addresses.

The workshop concluded that while electronic voting can be considered a democratic tool, it does not replace the democratic process.

Opportunities will be sought to present the full findings to NZNO staff, to help inform future planning. •


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(First published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, February 2018. Reposted with permisison).

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