By Leigh C. Katzman, Esq.
Founding Partner, Katzman Garfinkel

Electronic voting in Florida community associations - is there an app for that?

Advances in technology have made it easier to do everything from make a dinner reservation to communicate with people from all around the world as if they were sitting in your living room. With all that technology offers, you may have wondered from time to time why there was not an easier way to cast your vote in the election of directors or in any matter brought before the members in your community association. Why were you unable to cast your vote on these important association matters online instead of having to complete and return a written ballot or proxy? Well, the answer is that, up until very recently, Florida Statutes did not authorize the use of electronic voting in community associations.

In fact, prior to July 1, Florida Statutes required the use of written ballots and proxies for membership votes. While the use of written ballots and proxies is still permitted and likely to continue, boards that desire to leverage technology to the fullest now have the statutory authority to utilize electronic voting in their communities.

But hold on! Before you toss out your community’s paper ballots and proxies, certain detailed actions must be taken prior to the time that your community accepts its first electronic vote. However, once the preliminary work is done and a functioning electronic voting system is in place in your community, it is likely that it will provide an efficient and convenient method for members to cast their votes in association matters without having to be physically present at a meeting or having to mail or deliver a written ballot or proxy. Moreover, electronic voting is also likely to have the effect of increasing member participation in matters that impact your community.

Among the main concerns that board members express regarding elections and other matters requiring a vote of the members is lack of member participation. When members fail to participate in voting, the association is often unable to achieve its goals or otherwise bring about positive changes. Electronic voting may assist in alleviating this concern as it allows members to vote on association matters from their home or office computer—or even from a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. Easier access to election and other member votes may increase participation and facilitate board efforts to meet the needs and goals of the community.

So what is required to get your association ready for electronic voting? According to Florida Statutes, the board must provide at least 14 days written notice of a meeting to adopt a resolution implementing electronic voting. In addition, the Board must obtain each member’s written consent to participate in electronic voting; provide a method of authenticating the identity of the voter; have a method of ensuring the secrecy and integrity of each election ballot; and finally, test the electronic voting system at least 14 days before the vote is to take place to ensure that the member’s computer or other device communicates correctly with the voting system.

The statute also contains requirements relating to the electronic voting system itself, which include that the system must be capable of authenticating the voter and the vote itself to ensure that it has not been altered in transit; transmit a receipt to the voter; separate the identity of the voter from the vote itself (for elections); and store and keep votes accessible as association official records for inspection and other purposes.

While these requirements seem cumbersome at first glance, further clarification is expected from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes in the near future. It is important to remember that Florida is not the first state to implement electronic voting for community associations. In fact, electronic voting has been utilized in other states for some time. Therefore, there are providers that have developed electronic voting systems for community associations. However, such systems may or may not conform to the specific statutory requirements here in Florida. While out-of-state providers may claim to offer secure electronic voting that meets Florida’s statutory requirements, it is important for your association to confirm the accuracy of that information.

Overall, it is not likely that electronic voting will eliminate the need for paper ballots and/or proxies anytime in the near future. However, once electronic voting is established, it is very likely to be a more convenient and efficient method of conducting association voting, and may very well spur greater member participation in association matters.
Tuesday June 07, 2016