Every year, I attend many of my clients' annual meetings and elections and it is always disappointing when some members' election ballots must be discarded due to avoidable errors.
For Florida condominiums and HOAs who have adopted a "condominium style" election process, the election protocol that was implemented to discourage voter fraud can also be overly complicated for some members to follow. The goal in any election is to facilitate the greatest voter participation while maintaining the integrity of the voting process.
Here are some ways you can educate your members on how to cast their election ballots properly:
1. If your association is required under your documents to use voting certificates when a unit is owned by more than one person or is owned by a corporation or other business entity, make sure you have a voting certificate on file for each unit impacted by this requirement and, where possible, amend your documents so that units owned by more than one person or by husband and wife are exempt from a requirement that is better applied to only units owned by entities and trustees;
2. If you have out-of-state or international owners, consider hand delivering their voting package before they leave town or fed-ex the materials to them so they have time to receive and return their ballots. Getting your members, particularly your non-resident members, to agree to receive notice by electronic transmission will reduce the problems and costs associated with physical mailings;
3. Members need to understand that the outer envelope must identify the name of the unit owner, the unit # and be signed by the member or the voting certificate holder. Outer envelopes that cannot be validated by confirming the foregoing information are subject to being discarded;
4. The inner ballot envelopes should only contain the ballot and not other papers such as a voting certificate or a proxy. The inner ballot envelope should not contain any markings which would identify the individual who cast that ballot;
5. Members can vote for fewer than the permitted number of candidates but not more than the permitted number of candidates. Ballots which are cast for too many candidate will be discarded;
6. Offer online voting as an option for your election. When election votes are cast online, the judgement calls which come into question pertaining to outer and inner envelopes do not apply. In addition, in many online voting systems, a member may not cast a vote for more than the permitted number of candidates; and
7. Members should hand deliver or mail back their election ballots. Preferably, the owner will personally place his or her election ballot into a locked ballot box to ensure delivery.
In a Florida condominium, an election of directors can proceed with as few as 20% of the eligible voters casting a ballot; that is a very small percentage of members deciding the composition of a Board of Directors which will make important and monetarily significant decisions for the coming year(s). If you deduct a number of ballots from that already small number due to technical flaws or make it impossible for out of state voters to have time to return their ballots, the chance of having the election results truly mirror the membership's desires
It is incumbent upon every community association member to understand the steps that must be taken to ensure his or her vote counts and the best boards understand that an informed electorate is integral to the community's overall success.
What impediments to casting a successful ballot have you encountered in your community? Let me know.