Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to elect a board of directors each year. This election generally occurs at an annual meeting and involves casting and counting ballots of the homeowners in attendance along with any ballots that may have been cast by a proxy prior to the annual meeting. Obviously care must be taken in order to ensure no one votes more than once and that only those authorized to vote are doing so. In order for the election results to be valid, a quorum must be met. In other words, if an HOA’s bylaws state that an election must have 10% of all residents participating for the election results to be valid, then the total of all ballots cast—both by proxy and at the annual meeting—must be at least 10% of all residents. These requirements present challenges that are considerably alleviated using an online voting solution.
First, a note of caution. Above all else, any HOA must comply with its own bylaws and perhaps even state laws (like those specific to Florida HOA elections) stipulating requirements for HOA election procedure. If any of the recommended practices presented below conflict with those requirements, your bylaws or state laws must take precedence. That does not mean you’re precluded from offering an online voting option in addition to more traditional methods of voting; it only means that the option must be blended into your current procedure in such a way that your HOA is still in compliance with regulations. At the same time, set about updating bylaws to allow for fully embracing the following recommendations in subsequent years and doing away with some of the cumbersome aspects of election management from the bygone days of paper-based voting. Obviously changing state law is more challenging, and the best you may be able to do is to lobby your state legislature for change at that level.
What follows then are best practices for how a homeowner association election ideally should be conducted in the modern era. Given any restrictions with which you must comply, it is understood that many HOAs may need to take a phased approach to adopting these practices.
- Meeting quorum
- Handling proxy ballots
- Authenticating voters and verifying voter eligibility
- Tabulating election results
Meeting quorum is a challenge for many homeowner associations and simply adding an online voting option to your election is one way of addressing it immediately. When doing this, voting does not simply occur during the annual meeting. Instead, access to the ballot becomes available online three to five days prior to the annual meeting. (Three to five is arbitrarily chosen, so you may select a date range that works well for you.) Voters are notified that the ballot is now available and they may access it with a unique username and password. If your HOA already has a distinct username and password on record for each eligible voter, you may wish to use that. Alternatively, ElectionsOnline can generate and distribute login data to each voter, or an HOA’s election manager may download that data from the Evote system in an Excel file and include it in any notifications sent using the association’s own internal systems. Either way, there are two methods for distributing this notification.
- Email. On the start date of voting, the Evote online voting system has the ability to email a link to eligible voters including the username and password used to access the ballot. (This feature is only available when an election is fully hosted on the ElectionsOnline website and not available when integrating Evote into a client’s website.) Alternatively, some clients may wish to email voters using their own system. Either way, the voter receives an email containing a link to the ballot and some very short, very simple instructions on getting logged in.
- Paper mailing. For residents who do not have an up-to-date email address on record, you may send a paper notification. This notification will likely contain the username and password the voter will use to access the ballot, so you’ll obviously want to make sure it’s in a sealed envelope and not a postcard.
By not burdening residents with having to show up at a certain place on a certain date and time, but instead vote from the comfort of their own home when it’s convenient for them, you instantly stand to increase voter participation and meet quorum. What you obviously don’t want is for a person to vote online, then show up a few hours later at the annual meeting and vote again. To prevent that, see the following section on Authenticating voters and verifying voter eligibility.
Handling Proxy Ballots
Proxy ballots are an anachronism from the bygone days of voting by paper. Yes, you read that correctly. The dearly beloved proxy ballot that HOAs have been fond of for so long no longer has a role to play in a modern election. Having said that, as was stated earlier, this article puts forth recommended best practices for how a modern HOA election should be conducted. When bylaws, or state law, requires that proxy ballots be made available, that trumps these recommendations and therefore proxy ballots are likely to be around at least a little longer. But handling and accounting for them adds unnecessary burden on election managers, so your HOA should make every effort to phase them out sooner rather than later.
Until then, when a voter submits a ballot by proxy, that voter needs to be recorded as having voted and not permitted to vote a second time either online or at an annual meeting. The voter’s ballot then also needs to be entered into the system. The ElectionsOnline system is built to handle both of these things as described below.
- Log in to your client account at ElectionsOnline.
- Select the Manage Voters link associated with the election in question.
- Look up the voter by name who is submitting a ballot by proxy.
- The system displays the voter’s voting status. If the voter is shown as being ineligible to vote, it means he/she has already voted and the ballot by proxy may not be accepted. If however, it shows the voter is eligible, the ballot may be accepted and you should flag the voter as ineligible to ensure he/she doesn’t go online or show up at the annual meeting and vote a second time.
Note: The above instructions assume the election is being fully hosted at the ElectionsOnline website. If you’re integrating Evote into your own website, toggling a voter’s eligibility would be done using your own system.
Secondly, the ballot by proxy should be entered into the system as described below.
- Log in to your client account at ElectionsOnline.
- Click the Submit a paper ballot link.
- Submit the ballot into the system on the voter’s behalf. If you have multiple ballots, they may all be entered by repeating steps 2 and 3 in sequence.
When a ballot is entered into the system in this manner, it will be flagged as being submitted by the client rather than by the voter. In this scenario, “client” is synonymous with “proxy” so the number of ballots submitted by client, which is displayed on the election results page, should equal the number of voters who chose to vote by proxy, which you should be tracking with your own out-of-system record keeping.
Authenticating voters and verifying voter eligibility
Using the methods described above, we have a centralized data source tracking, in real time, who is authorized and eligible to vote. This is vital to keeping the election honest and ensuring no voter votes more than once regardless of whether the method is online, by proxy or in person at the annual meeting.
At the annual meeting you will need to set up a kiosk with a computer connected to the Internet. As attendees enter, you may verify their identity to determine if they are an authorized voter, and also determine if they are still eligible to vote by having not already done so. If so, they may either be:
- Provided a ballot paper (as with a ballot by proxy, you will want to mark someone as ineligible to vote before providing them a paper ballot to prevent double voting).
- Provide them with their login data so they may access the ballot either on their own mobile device (the ElectionsOnline ballot employs responsive design so as to display nicely on any device), or go over to the kiosk, log in and cast their ballot. If providing login data, you should not mark them as ineligible, or they will be unable to log in. (The system will automatically mark them as ineligible to vote once they have cast their ballot.)
Tabulating election results
It happens. An election committee will count ballots, immediately recount ballots and get a different result. This is one of the most compelling reasons to move to an online voting solution, because human fallibility is removed entirely from the tabulating process. Once all ballots are entered into the system, you simply log in to your client account, click the Get results link associated with an election and that’s it. The system provides the results immediately and the concept of a recount, just like the concept of a proxy ballot, is eliminated entirely from the process. There is no more sitting around all night waiting for ballots to be tabulated. The outcome may be announced just seconds after the close of voting and everyone may go home.
Within all the base reasons why any organization should conduct its election online, there are a couple that stand out and really make online voting particularly appealing to homeowner associations.
- In cases where an individual is permitted to cast one ballot for each unit owned, the concept of ballot weighting, where a single ballot is counted multiple times depending on the voter’s weight, can greatly simplify things both for the voter and election managers.
- Built into Evote are integrations with social media which, when combined with the concept of social proof, can be used to drive increased voter turnout. This is particularly well-suited for an HOA election where many of the residents know each other and can encourage others to vote.
There will come a day when homeowner and condominium owner associations abandon what have historically been some of the clunkier parts of election management in favor of the simplified and streamlined approaches provided here. Until then, always take care to consult with your legal counsel to ensure a rush to efficiency doesn’t leave behind compliance with the law, and know that the day will come when you are able to reap all the benefits of voting online while at least enjoying some of the benefits right now.