Elections Made Easy

By the end of the meeting, the board members were so discouraged they dreaded the thought of doing it again next year.

The problem, not uncommon for volunteer boards, was insufficient planning.  A successful election is a direct result of pre-election planning, which should start several months before the meeting.  In addition to deciding the date, time and location of the meeting, you also must establish campaign procedures, determine how candidates will be nominated, how ballots will be submitted and counted and how the election results will be announced.

This can seem like a daunting task, but these 11 steps will keep you organized and prepared throughout the entire process.

START EARLY

Establish election and voting rules.  Some states require that associations adopt reasonable election and voting rules.  Even if your state does not mandate such rules, they can go a long way in helping the election run smoothly.  This is especially helpful in a contentious election because board members, homeowners, candidates and inspectors can look to the rules to help answer questions.  At a minimum, the rules should address the qualifications of candidates; nominating procedures; campaign procedures; qualifications for voting; voting period; the authenticity, validity and effect of proxies; and the methods of selecting election inspectors to handle the ballots.  Much of this will be contained in the association’s bylaws.

Add the election to the board meeting agenda.  At least three months prior to the annual meeting, add it to the agenda of the regular board meeting.  This will be the board’s opportunity to do some planning before sending election materials to the homeowners.  At this meeting, the board will set the date, time and location of the meeting; appoint a nominating committee, if required; determine if member suspension hearings should be held; establish the record date of ownership; appoint ballot inspectors; and determine if the association’s attorney should attend the meeting.

Set the date, time and location of the meeting.  Review your governing documents to determine if they specify a day, time or location for the meeting.  For example, some bylaws require that the annual meeting be held at 7 p.m. on the same date each year on association property.  If the association typically meets off-site, the board will need to find a new location within the community, such as the pool area or a large greenbelt.

If the documents are flexible, select the date, time and location that will encourage attendance.  Avoid holidays, school functions and similar events.  Likewise, select a location that is close to the community and a facility that can accommodate the anticipated attendance.  Use history as a guideline, but keep in mind that issues such as a proposed special assessment may increase attendance.  A public facility may require additional time to reserve, set up and tear down, and charge a fee, so plan accordingly.

Be creative to encourage homeowner attendance and ensure a quorum.  For example, one community solicits local real estate agents for gift certificates.  Returned ballots are used for the drawing, which encourages owners to mail them in, even if they don’t plan to attend the meeting.  Another community hosts an ice cream social at the pool and conducts its election at the same time.  People come for the ice cream and stay for the meeting.

Set the record date of ownership.   Check the governing documents to determine if a record date is required to determine which members must receive notice of the meeting or which members are entitled to vote.  Even if the documents don’t specify a date, the board may wish to set one.  In practical terms, there is often a delay between the time a new homeowner closes escrow and when his or her information is provided to the association.  This sometimes creates a situation where a new owner wants to vote in the election, but he or she is not yet an “owner of record”.  The record date establishes a cutoff date, clarifying whether the new owner is entitled to notice and to vote.

Conduct member suspension hearings.  Check the governing documents to determine if the association may suspend a member’s right to vote as a result of a violation.  Many documents allow boards to suspend rights for 30 days or until the noncompliance is resolved.  Since most states require boards to provide certain hearing notices and decisions to members, they should conduct the hearings two to three months prior to the election.  Allow yourself enough time to reinstate the member’s right to vote, should the violation be resolved.

Appoint election inspectors.  At least two to three months prior to the meeting, the association should select election inspectors who will examine the ballots or proxies, establish a quorum and count the votes.  Select an odd number of inspectors, usually three, to avoid a tie vote.

The inspectors will determine the number of members entitled to vote, register proxies or ballots received prior to the meeting, register members attending the meeting and determine if a quorum has been achieved.  The inspectors also will receive and count ballots and tabulate the votes.  In addition, they will answer any challenges or questions pertaining to the election and determine the validity of questionable proxies or ballots.

Inspectors may be members of the community, certified public accountants, employees of companies that specialize in elections or other individuals as outlined in your state’s statues.  Inspectors should not be board members, candidates or relatives of board members or candidates, as this may be perceived as a conflict of interest.  In large-scale communities, the inspectors may appoint others to assist with the registration and the count.  However, these assistants should meet the same qualifications as the inspectors.

It’s important that inspectors are people who will perform their duties in good faith, to the best of their ability, with fairness to all members and as expeditiously as possible.  For example, in a contentious election where fairness may be at issue, the board may determine that hiring an outside firm is in the best interest of the community.

Nominate candidates.  At least two months prior to the meeting, the association should solicit candidates for the board.  Check the bylaws to determine if specific nominating procedures exist.  Many governing documents will require the board to establish a nominating committee, which usually consists of at least three association members including one board member.  In an apathetic community, a nominating committee can be helpful in recruiting candidates.

The committee also may mail homeowners a request for nominations with a copy of the election rules and qualifications for candidacy.  Each candidate should be asked to prepare a statement for the association to mail with the election materials to the members.  The association should not edit or redact any of the statements.  Rather, it should include a disclaimer that the association is not responsible for the content.

Specify a return deadline so the statements can be included with the election material mailing.  In addition, if the governing documents require candidates to be members “in good standing,” allow enough time to conduct hearings to suspend or reinstate a member.

Mail the annual meeting notice and election materials.  At least 30 days prior to the meeting, mail the annual meeting notice, ballots or proxies, candidate statements and voting instructions.  The notice should specify the date, time and location of the meeting, as well as the registration time.  Specifying that registration begins before the meeting will prevent confusion among the attendees.  The notice also should list the candidates known at the time of the mailing and any other business that will be conducted at the meeting.  It should advise the members of the quorum requirement and list a contact person who can answer questions.  In addition, it should advise owners of the record date of ownership, if one has been established.

The ballot or proxy form should list the candidates and include blank lines for write-in candidates.  Write-in candidates must be present at the meeting to accept nominations from the floor.  If this procedure is not followed, votes for these candidates may not be valid.  Each state has its own requirements with regard to ballots and proxies, so check with your attorney for specific information.

THE BIG DAY

Conduct the meeting.   One to two days before the meeting, empty the ballot box.  Gather extra ballots of proxies, agendas, committee volunteer forms, voter registration lists, membership lists for cross-referencing, tally sheets and the inspectors’ report form, which they’ll use to record the election results.  Be sure you also have extra pens, letter openers, paper clips and rubber bands.  Board members and inspectors should arrive at least 15 minutes early to set up the room and prepare for registration.  In a large-scale community, you may elect to do this a few hours or even a few days before the meeting.  During this period, the inspectors should register ballots or proxies received prior to the meeting.  Set up a registration table outside the entrance to the meeting room to ensure that attendees register before entering.  Place meeting agendas, committee volunteer forms and other relevant documents on the registration table.  As members arrive and sign in, the inspectors will verify whether their ballots or proxies have been already received.  If not, the inspectors should provide a ballot with voting instructions to the member.

When enough attendees have registered to achieve a quorum, a member should make a motion to close registration.  Late arrivals may attend the meeting, but they will not be permitted to register or participate.  This will help the inspectors control the ballots.  Once nominations have been requested from the floor and candidates have had an opportunity to make statements, voting may begin.  Completed ballots should be deposited in a ballot box monitored by the inspectors.  Then, a member should make a motion to close the voting.  This will prevent late ballots and stuffing of the ballot box.

Tally the votes.  Only the inspectors and their appointed assistants should open and count ballots, and they should be visible to the meeting attendees.  The association may establish a buffer zone around the inspectors to allow members to observe the counting, but prevent them from interfering.  Each inspector should have a tally sheet listing each candidate.  If there are three inspectors, one may read the name and the number of votes, while the other two mark the tally sheets.  The inspector reading the votes should call for a count periodically to ensure that the numbers are consistent.  Make a note of these periodic tallies on the tally sheet.  If, at some point, the two tally sheets are inconsistent, only those ballots since the previous tally count will need to be counted again.

As an additional safeguard, divide the total number of votes by the total number of tallied votes allowed per ballot.  This number should equal the number of ballots collected.  When the inspectors are satisfied with the accuracy of the results, they must sign and date the tally sheets and complete the election report.  This report must be made available for review by the association members and may be needed evidence if the election is challenged.  The inspectors then announce the election results to the meeting attendees, providing only the names of the new board members to avoid embarrassing candidates who lost.  When all additional business is completed, a member should make a motion to adjourn the meeting. 

Mail the results of the election.  Within 15 days after the meeting, the inspectors should formally report the tabulated election results to the board, which will record them in the minutes of the next board meeting.  In addition, the board should announce the results to the homeowners in a special mailing, in the newsletter or on the association’s website.  The association should store the ballots, tally sheets, inspectors report and other election documents for a specific period of time.  Ask your attorney how long records should be kept.

If you follow these step-by-step guidelines to conduct your election, you will have a well-organized and efficient annual meeting.  A smoothly run meeting will not only save the board headaches, but will leave homeowners feeling confident about the way the community is run.

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by Ramona Acosta, CMCA, AMS, PCAM