By: Cathi Sleight CMCA® , EBP - Vote HOA Now
The year of 2020 will forever be known as “The Year of Covid” and we have seen many changes as a result. One positive change has been the level of remote participation and the gaining popularity of virtual meetings for board meetings, annual meetings, elections, and special membership meetings. As the technical comfort level of owners, board members, and managers has grown, with it has been the understanding that greater participation from owners via remote means is a good thing.
Many states that had enabled temporary allowances for electronic voting due to Covid restrictions have now made them permanent. This can make implementing online voting as simple as passing a board resolution or adding online voting to your election or voting process. Many of these changes were just enacted effective July 1, 2021, so be sure to check your state statutes for the guidelines.
If online voting is permitted by your state statute it is very easy to incorporate this into your HOA (or condominium or co-op) election process and offer owners another option for having their vote count. Start by having the board adopt a resolution to add electronic voting as a method to accept ballots.
Next, work with a company that offers the type of voting service you need. It is recommended that HOAs work with an electronic (or online) voting company that is specific to the HOA industry as they understand the complexities of the state statute requirements and community governing documents.
There are a few things that will help you get started. First, review the estimate to make sure you understand all the fees involved; paying for each piece as you need them can push your budget over very quickly. Sending email invitations and reminders should be part of the package and are the key to achieving quorum before a meeting. Consider changing email subject lines to appeal to more owners – no one wants to see the same message repeatedly. Lastly, a dedicated person that will answer questions and assist with owner questions as they arise makes the partnership complete.
With so many choices in the marketplace, below are some items your community should consider when selecting an online voting vendor, starting with level of service and changes to processes.
Full-Service Setup and Management – A complete separation between manager, board, and committee members. This is the most common and most secure choice; no training is needed for the manager or board members and the level of service stays the same even with manager and management company changes. The vendor loads owner data, builds your ballot/vote, gains approval on all and generally reports to you on a regular schedule so you can report when quorum is achieved. When voting ends a professional final report is provided that can be shared virtually with the entire membership, WOW! That is full transparency!
Self-Service – You will find this option is less expensive but does require an individual or individuals to set up the vote and ballot, they may not be aware of all the system features and tools. This can be less desirable for a few reasons, if the vote is challenged those individuals would be responsible for answering questions about the set-up, can these individuals see how lots/units voted? Did these individuals share confidential information with others that may have an advantage by knowing? We all have read those articles about invalidated membership votes and the ability for a few to have access to confidential information.
Call for Candidates – A good call for candidates’ period in advance of your meeting will help with those last-minute write ins and nominations from the floor. Candidates who submit by the deadline can be vetted to make sure they meet criteria for serving on the board. With online voting in most cases the community has met quorum early and the new directors have already been selected electronically before the meeting. However, we don’t want to turn away anyone who writes themselves in or nominates from the floor. If another position on the board is needed the board can appoint an individual or they can be seated on a committee that desperately needs volunteers.
Official Meeting Notice - In most states mailing an official notice is still required. This can be a one-page notice with the meeting time and location information and listing the options to vote. Online/electronic ballots, absentee ballots, and paper ballots/proxies all represent early voting and each count towards quorum for the election and annual meeting, so incorporating electronic voting removes the need to send additional paper. Paper is made available upon request and sent to those few that will not be able to vote online. What a way to control proxy collection, owners taking responsibility for their own vote.
The last bit of guidance when introducing electronic voting is to communicate, communicate, communicate! Let your community know you are adding these great options and how much money you can direct to other association projects over time. These are the kind of messages that continue to make the board and management look like superheroes!
If you absolutely love this blog and want us to share more, please let our CAI chapter representative know, we love sharing what we know about the trends in online voting.