For a growing number of community associations across the United States and Canada, statute changes are making electronic voting a possibility for boards. If your state or province permits online voting – or will soon – does that mean that your board should make this option available to homeowners in your community?
The answer isn’t as simple as it may seem.
“There are a lot of legal nuances,” says David Diestel, regional president at FirstService Residential, “so it’s a complicated issue.” For this reason, he urges boards to consult with their legal counsel before making any decision about bringing online voting (or “e-voting”) to their association. “You always need to talk to your attorney on this topic so you understand the implications and the pros and cons for your community,” he explains. “The decision needs to be made thoughtfully; it shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Voting rules, bylaws and logistics are the main factors that make e-voting a complex topic. As a result, many boards aren’t ready to introduce it to their association. Maureen Connolly, vice president at FirstService Residential, has seen this firsthand. “I still only have 12 associations out of 256 that are using it,” she says.
One of the primary benefits of e-voting is that it increases the likelihood that homeowners will vote. “It’s a way to enable more members to participate,” Connolly points out, “especially people who travel a lot. They like the ability to vote from wherever they are.” Diestel also sees this as one of the advantages of e-voting. “It could be very effective for things that require a super-majority of votes to pass,” he says.
Another advantage is that electronic ballots can be tabulated more quickly and accurately than paper ballots. “The tallies are done automatically,” says Connolly, eliminating the potential for human error. Electronic voting systems also have built-in safeguards to ensure voter confidentiality and prevent election tampering. “The chance for fraudulent ballots is probably lower with electronic voting,” Diestel admits. In states or provinces that allow homeowners to forego paper ballots altogether, e-voting can even lower an association’s costs by reducing its use of paper, postage and other mailing supplies.
Owners who vote electronically without attending meetings may not be familiar enough with the issues or candidates on the ballot. “If owners aren’t educated as to what they are voting on, you don’t always get the vote that is best for the association,” notes Diestel. “That is something we’ve seen happen at some associations and something you need to be mindful of.” To help address this concern, he recommends having board candidates provide write-ups about themselves that can then be sent out via email to homeowners. For votes on specific items, the board can send out background information that explains why it is being presented for a vote.
Even though e-voting prevents someone from voting twice electronically, it may not necessarily prevent someone from voting both electronically and manually. Diestel emphasizes the importance of establishing a process for handling both electronic and manual votes on election night.
After discussing the implications with your legal counsel, carefully evaluating the pros and cons, and inviting feedback from homeowners, your board is ready to take the steps to bring e-voting to your association. What’s next? Although the laws regarding community associations and e-voting vary, there are some general guidelines your board should follow if you are considering e-voting in your community:
Active involvement by homeowners is crucial to the success of a community, and e-voting is one way to make it easier for owners to get involved. Nevertheless, e-voting may not be right for every association. Be sure to do your due diligence and never make any decisions without consulting your attorney.
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