Today the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), within the U.S. Department of Labor, will issue what is called a “Request for Information” (RFI) on the use of electronic voting systems, such as web- and telephone based voting, for union officer elections.  It initiates a process (that will likely take many months) to revisit severe legal restrictions on the use of online voting systems to conduct officer elections.  For background on the complicated law on this subject, visit the IAFF’s page on online voting here.

When OLMS has jurisdiction over union officer elections (this is not always the case for IAFF locals), it requires that the election be by “secret ballot.”  Actually, that’s true of the IAFF’s Constitution and By-Laws as well; but the problem, in a nutshell, is that the OLMS’ definition of “secret ballot” (unlike the IAFF’s) is based off a 1959 federal statute – many, many years before the internet was a glint in DARPA’s eye.  OLMS’ definition of secret ballot does not expressly permit online voting in elections for union officers, or provide guidelines for ensuring a secure, protected system of online voting.  Thus, while the IAFF does not discourage online voting in other areas, there are severe restrictions on using online voting for elections.

The cost-savings of electronic voting, and the increased participation that occurs with it, are enticing for local leaders.  Yet, the RFI (you can download it here) asks a lot of tough questions.  Should a verifiable paper trail be used?  How can a vote be checked for accuracy or fraud?  Who writes the computer code for system?  What safeguards can be put in place to protect against hacking, spoofing, denial of service attacks, automated vote buying, phishing, and other threats?

The IAFF will be working with other unions and the AFL-CIO, to monitor this rulemaking process and will continue to post on OLMS’ progress.