News From The Ninth Arch

Getting the Job Done, New Mexico Style

Getting the Job Done, New Mexico Style
By Companion Leonard Roughgarden
Technology Committee Chair, Grand Council of New Mexico

Companion Leonard Roughgarden
Technology Committee Chair, Grand Council of New Mexico


Supplemental Documentation
Online Election Management Services Overview
eBallot Test Results: Balloting and Voting Process Review

Few would disagree that this year has presented many interesting challenges and some particularly stressful moments for organizations such as ours that rely on constant communication and interaction between its members. But these challenges and stressful moments have also provided us with a unique opportunity to embrace new methods and implement technologies that may very well carry the York Rite bodies and Masonry in general far into the future.

In my home state of New Mexico, we were already well down the road with normal preparations for our Grand York Rite Annual Grand Sessions when the “stay at home” orders and the implementation of “social distancing” guidelines were issued. It definitely took the wind out of our sails. No one had considered that anything like this would happen. There was certainly no “Plan B”. And just like everyone else at first, we thought this was just a brief interruption and we’d be back to work in short order. Then “short” became “indeterminate and unknown” and suddenly we needed to find a different way of conducting the important business of our Craft.

First and foremost, it was immediately established that we needed a secure and robust means of communicating across multiple platforms and devices. It had to be usable by users of all experience levels, i.e., “user friendly”, and of course it had to be “cost-effective”; a need which Zoom quickly demonstrated it could fulfill. The planning committee members got on board quickly with the free version which enabled us to get organized and working together to exchange ideas and establish requirements, however it wasn’t long before we moved to the paid service to support the longer meetings and greater numbers of participants.

With Zoom’s demonstrated capabilities to accommodate and moderate groups ranging from small to very large and its methods and tools for controlling the access and interaction, such as targeted invitations, a waiting room, the ability to lock meetings, and the ability to remove participants we felt confident enough with it as our choice going forward for any and all online communication forums.

So now we had a way to communicate. Was it possible then, with the guidance provided by the Grand Lodge of New Mexico, that we would be able to hold our Grand Sessions online, at least in part? Since that question was first posed, of course, there have been many Masonic organizations that have managed to conduct business online with varying degrees of success, but at the time it was still an unknown. We still needed to know if we could actually get delegates together and officers elected for the upcoming year. The planning committee decided to press on and identify a method to conduct secure balloting and voting using online tools.

There are many online voting sites and numerous methods for accomplishing anything from simple polling to ranked and weighted balloting. We wanted a method that would ensure voter anonymity, provide the capability for weighted ballots, allow for off-line ballot construction, provide real-time results, be user and administrator friendly, and of course be “cost-effective”. In the end, besides the simple criteria, it was the pricing model used by eBallot that most appealed to us because under this model we can run an unlimited number of elections and balloting sessions and we are charged only for the number of voters (delegates) entered into the system during a given billing cycle. This model turns out to be very cost-effective for us: For example, assuming 150 voting delegates and an unlimited number of ballots/voting sessions, the total cost for a month’s subscription is still less than $15.00 (US).

Features built into eBallot include targeted mailing campaigns, test balloting, and access control utilizing a unique ID and key. During the voting process, each voter is given the opportunity to review their selections before submitting the ballot for tally and they also receive a separate confirmation via email that their vote was recorded. Finally, eBallot allows for real-time returns and has a full complement of reporting tools if needed. The administration of the ballot creation process and the voting cycle is straightforward and very intuitive.

The situation and circumstances we currently find ourselves embroiled in have forced us out of our comfort zones and into new territory. It’s hardly business as usual these days. We must look at different ways of working together to solve problems and implement solutions. Personally, I believe that these “interesting times” may lead us to a brighter and more productive future if we take the lessons we have learned here and use the knowledge gained to provide more avenues for us to connect with our members and for them to interact with us.

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