Homeowner associations hold elections every year. Members have the opportunity to vote for people who they believe will best serve the needs and interests of the community as a whole. But like any other election, voting can be a tricky thing. Some communities struggle to get members to cast votes. Sometimes owners aren’t sure how to vote. And in rarer instances, members might try to cast multiple votes or rig entire elections. This article will address HOA voter fraud and what associations can do to minimize this problem.
How do HOA elections work?
The process for HOA elections varies depending on state laws and governing documents. These laws and bylaws will dictate the specific voting process that your association must abide by when electing board members. But generally speaking, the process looks something like this:
- Establishment of the electoral process in the bylaws and governing documents. This includes how votes can be cast, terms for positions, how much notice owners must receive before an election takes place, and what happens if a quorum is not reached
- Owners receive notice of an upcoming election. They will be made aware of open positions, provided instructions about how and where to vote, etc.
- The election is organized and carried out according to the HOA rules
- Votes are tallied, and winners are determined. Depending on how votes were cast, and how large the association is, this process could take an hour or several days
- Elected directors and officers take on their new roles
Do people really try to rig HOA elections?
Believe it or not, yes! It doesn’t occur often, but HOAs do experience voter fraud. It happened in Pennsylvania after an employee of an association made a formal complaint to the local district attorney.
Two men were convicted of hundreds of counts related to their manipulation of an election while serving as secretary and chair of their HOA.
The complaint was made ahead of the election after the employee said the HOA’s secretary told them to pick out the ballots being readied for mailing to owners of vacant lots that were unsuitable for building. The board member reportedly told the employee that those owners rarely voted in elections. The member also stated that he had already picked up the ballots.
Later evidence led to the arrest of the HOA’s chairman. Not only was there proof that the two HOA officers engaged in illegal voting behavior, but the chairman had also suggested to the employee that they disable the office cameras so the men could avoid detection.
In Florida, Miami-Dade recorded an alarmingly high number of complaints of irregularities and fraud in the administration of condos in 2015. El Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 launched their own investigation after allegations of fraudulent ballots at several South Florida condos.
At one condo, voting participation reached 115%. At another, dozens of owners said their signatures were falsified.
How do people tamper with elections?
These are the most common ways people have tried to manipulate the outcome of an HOA election:
Proxy voting – Many HOAs have rules in place that allow owners to assign a person to vote on their behalf. This is called proxy voting. There are two ways to use proxies. General proxies let the proxy holder vote however they see fit. Directed proxies mean that the unit owner tells the proxy older what issues to vote on, and how to vote on them.
Some ill-willed people may collect proxies from mailboxes before owners have a chance to see them, or they might even change votes on proxy ballots to alter results.
Voter intimidation – Some candidates will go door-to-door and try to pressure owners into voting for them.
Avoiding meetings – A governing board might neglect to host an annual meeting so that current directors maintain their roles. While associations don’t allow this, owners must take action to ensure the issue is addressed.
Altering ballots – Board members with a vested interest in the outcome of an election could change ballots if the HOA doesn’t have an independent tabulator counting the votes.
There have also been cases where individuals reprint ballots and vote for the owners without their permission.
Why does voter fraud occur?
While many speculate that directors fix elections because they’re getting some sort of financial benefit from managing the community, sometimes it’s simply about maintaining power. Regardless of the reason, dishonest acts committed by directors cannot be tolerated.
In other instances, it may be an honest mistake. Self-managed associations may be more susceptible to election errors if they’re attempting to host events without an attorney.
How can HOAs prevent voter fraud?
This may sound counterintuitive, but introducing an online voting system can drastically minimize opportunities for voter fraud as well as voting mistakes. Online voting and virtual meetings are easier to manage, simplify the voting process for owners, and protect the integrity of a vote better than the traditional method.
It’s important to note that not all HOAs have rules in place that allows them to accept electronic votes. Check your governing documents first to see if your association allows members to vote electronically.
E-voting, or electric voting, lets owners vote using some type of online platform. Instead of selecting a proxy holder, owners can cast their vote even if they can’t attend a meeting. Votes can be submitted ahead of meetings.
Think of a virtual meeting as the total package. With a virtual meeting platform, associations can collect online votes before elections, and facilitate voting during a live meeting.
Only authorized members can participate in virtual meetings. It is also possible to have hybrid meetings; owners have to option to attend and vote in person, or online.
Condo Control has both e-voting and virtual meeting options. Our platforms are both easy to use and secure. For virtual meetings, we use email as authentication. Each member gets a secure link which they can click on to gain access to the meeting once it has started. Since the email is linked back to the owner’s unit number, we know who is voting and can validate and confirm that only one vote per unit is submitted.
You can even get us to moderate your next annual meeting for you. We can help you with the technical stuff and ensure the meeting doesn’t run long.
We’ve organized dozens of virtual meetings since 2020, and all of our clients tell us that they prefer virtual meetings. Not only is it simpler, but 99% of clients have reached quorum on the first try using our platform.
Click here to learn more about our virtual meeting feature.
In addition to e-voting, associations are encouraged to do the following to minimize voter fraud:
- Hire an attorney to examine your current voting rules
- Send electoral ballots by certified regular mail, even if it’s not required by your HOA’s laws. It will provide a trustworthy paper trail for votes and you’ll know when the intended recipient received the ballot
- Maintain an updated list of owners. Rules about who can vote should be outlined in the HOA bylaws. Usually, only owners (not renters) can vote, and they need to be in good financial standing with the association
- Use an independent election inspector to tabulate votes. This will help ensure the election is fair