Will Florida’s New Online Election Law for Community Associations Spell Welcome Relief or More Headaches?
The Florida Legislature recently approved a new law which will allow community associations to conduct their elections online through the use of electronic voting. While associations in other states have had this ability for some time now, this is a sea change for the millions of Floridians living in shared ownership communities.
For years, many of the disputes in condominiums, cooperatives and homeowners associations, have stemmed from the annual meeting and election process. People who ran for the board and weren’t elected were convinced that the current board or the manager who doesn’t like them somehow “kept them off’. We’ve heard tales of ballot boxes being stuffed, tampered with and altogether ignored. In the condominium setting, allegations of forgeries on outer envelopes is always a concern while in the HOA setting, complaints of rampant proxy abuse are common in connection with the election of the board members.
Howard Perl, a Shareholder with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, has handled these disputes for more than a decade. “Many of the disputes involve judgment calls. Some ballots are discarded when they shouldn’t be and others are allowed when clearly they should have been invalidated” he explained.
Election disputes don’t come cheap. They are subject to mandatory arbitration with a Florida state agency and can cost up to $5,000 or more depending on how hotly contested the matter is. Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation will be meeting in early August to begin drafting rules to address the new statute.
Now that the path has been cleared to allow Florida’s associations to utilize online voting, the question remains whether this move will result in fewer or greater complaints associated with electing a community’s board of directors. Remember the national focus on the Sunshine State’s unfortunate hanging chad incident? Hopefully, we will not have a repeat performance and our Florida communities will embrace this new option as one which will (a) likely increase voter participation and (b) reduce the possibility for voter fraud.