They come in cars, vans, pickups, tractors, motorcycles, and in at least one case, on horseback. Annual meetings have changed post-COVID but continue to be popular with members. In fact most of the co-ops in Missouri tell me there are more people taking part in the business of the cooperative now than in the past.
If the way we travel has changed, so too has the way the business of the co-op is conducted. Plans were already in place to introduce iPad voting at electric co-op annual meetings prior to the pandemic.
It was Ralls County Electric Cooperative in 2019 that first tested the electronic voting system which lets members vote for their directors by touching the screen on an iPad. The typical hourlong wait for the results vanished. Once the time for voting had closed, the results were available immediately.
This new way to vote worked well.
A year and a pandemic later, this system of voting allowed member-owners to continue to take part in the business of their cooperative.
At a time when no one could gather at their local annual meetings due to COVID, cooperatives had to adapt with drive-thru annual meetings. With the help of iPad voting, members could still safely take part in the business of the electric cooperative they own.
The annual meeting is a uniquely cooperative event where members vote for their representatives on the board, change the bylaws as needed and learn about any future programs the co-op might offer.
Part picnic, part carnival, with just a little revival thrown in, the annual meeting for Co-Mo Electric Cooperative was something my family always looked forward to. Sure, there were speeches we kids didn’t much appreciate, but there were always big bucket trucks to look at and I usually managed to find a co-op yardstick to beat my brother with.
My introduction to the democratic process came from watching my parents vote for directors who would lead the cooperative in the years to come. Political candidates quickly learned that there isn’t a better place to campaign than the local electric cooperative annual meeting.
Times have changed and these changes — such as mail-in, online and iPad voting and drive-thru meetings — have opened up member participation to many more people whose busy lives didn’t always allow them to attend the meeting. These days many electric co-ops stream the meeting live on social media offering yet another way to take part.
Whatever the format — and however you choose to get there — I hope you will make plans to be a part of your electric cooperative’s annual meeting.
I can guarantee it won’t be the same without you.
Caleb is the executive vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and a member of Boone Electric Cooperative.