EMBRACING ELECTRONIC VOTING

Published on: April 19, 2019

Electronic voting could be the cure for owner apathy in community associations and is a new technology managers should be exploring for their associations.  E-voting allows owners to cast a vote for elections, amendments, budgets and more all from the convenience of one’s own computer or smart phone.  While not commonly utilized at this moment, e-voting is clearly on the rise given technological advancement and the proliferation of the internet in all our lives (think Amazon, Google and Apple).  There are many e-voting options on the market but is the use of such software permissible?  The answer depends on where you live.

E-voting is simply defined as conducting an association vote over the internet.  This can be done in numerous ways such as through a website, voting software or other electronic means like e-mail.  When voting via a website or software, the votes are automatically (and securely) tabulated and the results transmitted to the Board.  By contrast, email votes are essentially paper ballots that must be tallied by an individual by hand.

E-voting vendors provide a platform for owners to cast votes, for those votes to be automatically tabulated and for the results to be produced, all without board or manager time and effort.  Think of the delays caused at association meetings as ballots are collected, hand counted, re-counted and results determined.  The whole process is made automatic courtesy of e-voting.

There are many benefits to e-voting but the biggest could be combatting owner apathy.  It is more and more common for associations to have difficulty obtaining a quorum at annual meetings where most owner votes take place.  Without a quorum, a valid vote cannot take place.  If a doc amendment is sought by the board requiring 2/3 or 3/4 of all owners to approve, apathy will make such an amendment impossible to accomplish no matter how important the issue.  Thus, enabling owners to vote by simply pressing a few buttons on their smart phone, quorums should be easy to obtain.  Imagine how voter turnout would be affected if owners can vote in their home, at work or anywhere else simply and easily.  E-voting is not a panacea for apathy but it is a significant help and the best associations are those in which owners are involved in the decision making process.

Additionally, e-voting is a secured method of voting which eliminates human error in tabulation as well as any argument that a biased individual interfered with the results.  Every condo attorney has attended a meeting where the losing faction alleges that the “fix was in” when the vote goes against them.  The software or third-party e-voting company does not care of Joe or Mike wins the election or if the proposed amendment passes, it simply collects data and reports a result.

The downsides are few.  There is a cost to using e-voting software, but there is also a cost to renting out a meeting space.  While hacking a condo vote is theoretically possible, I’d like to think cyber-criminals have better things to do.  Additionally, not everyone is on the internet so certain owners will not be able to vote in this fashion which is perhaps the biggest downside.  As such, any e-vote will have to have a “old-fashioned” voting component to be all inclusive.

Can your association utilize e-voting?  In Massachusetts, e-voting is not allowed unless specifically allowed by your condominium docs which they are highly unlikely to contain unless recently drafted or amended.  Since most docs in Massachusetts define a quorum as individuals “present in person or by proxy”, a vote cast electronically would therefore not qualify as an owner being “present” for a meeting.  To utilize e-voting in Massachusetts, the condo must adopt an amendment—via owner vote—to adopt e-voting for future votes.

In NH, e-voting is permitted by recent amendments to the condominium statute.  Per Section 39-a, unless your condominium docs prohibit e-voting, a vote may be conducted so long as certain enumerated procedures are complied with.  For example, the electronic ballot must contain information such as the quorum requirement, the percent of votes necessary to pass the proposal, the deadline for response and describe the means “by which unit owners wishing to deliver information to all unit owners regarding the subject of the vote may do so.”

E-voting is going to gain a lot of steam in the coming years.  I strongly encourage boards and managers to investigate e-voting vendors to see what makes sense for your association.  Getting owners to vote and take part in condo affairs is incredibly important to a well-functioning association and e-voting can assist with that goal.

Please contact Dean Lennon at dlennon@meeb.com for any questions regarding this article.