OpaVote Help

Here you can find all the information you need to run elections, polls, and counts with OpaVote. Please read these instructions carefully and run a test election or two before you run a real election. Although we have tried to simplify the process, there are many important details, and making a mistake (e.g., forgetting a candidate) can require you to restart the election and be a bad experience for your voters.

Items: Elections, Polls, and Counts

OpaVote allows you to (i) run elections, (ii) run polls, and (iii) count ranked ballots that you have collected in other ways (e.g., paper ballots or another online system). We refer to each of these as items.

An election is organized by an election manager (probably yourself). The manager provides the names of the candidates and a list of voters' email addresses, and OpaVote takes care of the rest. OpaVote ensures that only authorized voters can vote and that they only vote once. Email addresses are not used for any purpose outside of the election. See our privacy policy for more information.

A poll is similar to an election, except that anyone can vote, and the manager does not provide a list of voters. The manager must publicize the poll using a website, emails, or social media.

Elections and polls include the following features:

  • Multiple contests (e.g., president, vice-president, and secretary) in a single election or poll.
  • Customized election or poll page with rich formatting, links, and images.
  • Bar charts of election results to easily explain who won and why.
  • Can optionally set start and/or stop dates to automatically start and stop voting.
  • Can control whether voters can see election or poll results.
  • Large number of counting methods available including IRV, STV, Condorcet, and approval voting.
  • Can optionally shuffle the candidate order on ballots to prevent bias.

A count allows you to obtain election results for ranked ballots that you have already collected. You can choose a variety of counting methods, such as instant runoff voting, the single transferable vote, and Condorcet voting. Counts have more counting options than elections or polls, such as the ability to withdraw candidates and break ties manually.

Elections and polls have three stages: EDITING, VOTING, and END. Counts have two stages: EDITING and END. Each of these stages is described in further detail in our pages specifically for elections, polls, and counts. Note that once you progress from one stage to the next you cannot go back. Please double check that everything is correct before you go on to the next stage.

Logging In

Before using OpaVote, you need to login, and you can login with a Google, Facebook, Amazon, or LinkedIn account. We need your name and email address from your account, but we do not use any other information and we do not make any posts on your behalf.

If the acccount you login with does not have an email address or has an email address that is bouncing, then you will need to change your email address before using OpaVote (a working email address is required).

OpaVote allows you to share your OpaVote login with other people if you would like more than one person to be able to manage your items. From your account page, you can access a link that you can share with others to let them login to OpaVote as yourself. Only share this link with people you trust because anyone with this link has complete control over all of your OpaVote items.

OpaVote also has password accounts where we use your email address as your user name and you provide a password for the account. Before using a password account, you must verify that your email address works by clicking a verification link in an email that we send you. If you forget your password, go to the login page and request a password reset email.

OpaVote previously had guest accounts and these accounts will continue to work.

Management

The management console is the starting point for managing all your items. Here, you will find buttons to manage all of your existing items, to create new items, and to make payments.

From the console, you can also set the manager name, manager email address, and time zone that are used for all of your items.

  • Manager name — The manager name and email address will appear on the emails sent to voters and also on the election page. Voters are instructed to contact you with any questions.
  • Manager email — By default, the manager email address is the email address associated with your login account. You can use a different email address by entering it here. After you update, an email message will be sent to the new email address, and you must click the verification link in that email message.
  • Time zone — OpaVote records the date and time of the start of the election, the end of the election, and the expiration of the election. OpaVote will report these in your preferred time zone.

Expiration and Deletion of Items

All items have an expiration date. Free items expire one week after creation. For each $5 transferred to an item, the expiration date is extended by one week.

After the expiration date, voters cannot vote, and you cannot manage the item. You also cannot see election results after the expiration date. You thus need to end your election before it expires!

If you need to access your item after the expiration date, you can extend the expiration date by transferring a payment. Extending the expiration date is $5 per week so you will need to transfer $5-$10 depending on when your item expired.

Two weeks after the expiration date, all information about the item will be permanently deleted.

Payments

OpaVote pricing is available on the pricing page. If your item goes beyond the free limits, then you need to make a payment to increase the limits.

Payments may be made from the payments page. These payments are available to be used with any of your items. Before you move beyond the EDITING stage of an item, you must transfer payments needed for that item. Transfer of a payment to an item cannot be undone so please double check before transferring a payment.

After starting an item, you may later need to add an additional payment. For example, if you need to add voters or would like to extend the expiration date. From the management console of an item, there is a button to transfer $5 from your available balance to that item. If your balance is $0, then you need to make a payment first as described above. If you need to transfer more than $5, then use the transfer $5 button more than once.

The payments page shows a log of payment activity. All payments are non-refundable.

Election Results

Elections, Polls, and Counts, all include a "results page" for presenting results to managers and/or voters. For Elections and Polls, only the manager can see the results page by default. In the managment console, there is a "Publish Results" button that allows anyone to see the results page. For Elections, when you click Publish Results, an email will be sent to all voters who voted to let them know how to see the results. For Counts, the results page is public, but since the page address is not, other people cannot see results unless you share the address with them.

The results page includes:

  • detailed results using charts,
  • text format results suitable for sending via email,
  • CSV and JSON formatted results for further processing,
  • a link to download the ballots, and
  • a link to a recount page that allows anyone to recount the ballots using all of the counting methods supported by OpaVote.

BLT File Format

OpaVote uses the BLT format for storing ballots. At the end of an election or poll, you can download the ballots into a file in the BLT format. For counts, you can upload a file in the BLT format and then count the votes with OpaVote.

A ballot file contains the following information:

  • The first line has two numbers indicating the number of candidates and the number of seats.
  • The second line is the first ballot, and each following line is another ballot until you reach the end of ballots marker. Each ballot is a separate line.
  • The first number on a ballot line indicates a ballot weight, and for most elections, this will always be 1. The last number on a ballot line is always 0 to indicate the end of a ballot.
  • The other numbers on a ballot line indicate the rankings. The second number on a ballot line is the candidate number of the first ranked candidate, the third number on a ballot line is the candidate number of the second ranked candidate, and so forth.
  • A ballot line of "1 0" is an empty ballot that did not rank any candidates. If a ballot ranks 1 candidate, then the ballot line will have 3 numbers. If a ballot ranks 4 candidates, then the ballot line will have 6 numbers.
  • A line with only a 0 is an end of ballots marker and indicates that the previous line was the last ballot.
  • The lines after the end of ballots marker indicate the candidate names in double quotes. The number of candidate names must match the number indicated on the first line.
  • The line after the candidate names is the title in double quotes.
  • Blank lines, extra white space, and any comments (text after a #) are ignored.
  • Be careful with double quotes. They must be straight double quotes (") and not curly double quotes (“”).
  • If you have more than 10,000 ballots, then OpaVote stores the ballots in what we call a "packed" format. Only unique ballots are included in the BLT file and the weight indicates the number of times that the ballot occurred.

The BLT file format has some other features that may be useful for some users:

  • You can indicate withdrawn candidates in the BLT file. To do this, insert a line after the first line and before the first ballot. This line lists negative candidate numbers to indicate that those candidates have withdrawn. E.g., a second line of "-1 -3" indicates that candidates 1 and 3 have withdrawn.
  • You can indicate undervotes (also known as skipped rankings) with a hyphen. E.g., a ballot line of "1 3 - 2 0" indicates that candidate 3 was ranked first, no candidate was ranked second, and candidate 2 was ranked third. Most counting methods will ignore the skipped ranking and go on to the next ranking.
  • You can indicate duplicate rankings (also known as overvotes) with an equal sign. E.g., a ballot line of "1 3=2 1 0" indicates that both candidate 2 and candidate 3 were ranked first and that candidate 1 was ranked second. Most counting methods will ignore the overvote and go on to the next ranking.

An annotated example of a BLT file is shown below:

    4 2          # Four candidates are competing for two seats
    -2           # Bob has withdrawn
    1 4 1 3 2 0  # First ballot
    1 3 4 1 2 0  # Chuck first, Amy second, Diane third, Bob fourth
    1 2 4 1 0    # Bob first, Amy second, Diane third
    1 4 3 0      # Amy first, Chuck second
    6 4 3 0      # Amy first, Chuck second with a weight of 6
    1 0          # An empty ballot
    1 2 - 3 0    # Bob first, no one second, Chuck third
    1 2=3 1 0    # Bob and Chuck first, Diane second
    1 2 3 4 1 0  # Last ballot
    0            # End of ballots marker
    "Diane"      # Candidate 1
    "Bob"        # Candidate 2
    "Chuck"      # Candidate 3
    "Amy"        # Candidate 4
    "Gardening Club Election"  # Title