Is HOA online voting something that all homeowners associations can do? Is it even a better alternative to traditional voting with physical ballots?
The Validity of HOA Online Voting
Elections are a normal part of homeowners associations. Homeowners elect members yearly or every few years to serve on the board and lead the community. As with any election, though, HOA elections can be messy. Many associations need help getting a good voter turnout or organizing the ballots.
Online voting for associations is a good compromise, and it allows associations to hold elections — or any voting process, for that matter — with ease. However, not all homeowners associations may be permitted to take votes online.
So, how do you know if an HOA can do online voting?
The first place to look is state laws. For instance, in California, the Davis-Stirling Act Section 5100 requires a double envelope system for voting. Therefore, associations in this state can’t use email ballots or any HOA online voting software.
Remember that several states temporarily allowed associations to conduct virtual annual meetings (and online voting) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether those resolutions remain in place depends on the state, though most have lifted them. Make sure to check your state’s laws for confirmation.
Apart from state laws, associations should also refer to their governing documents. Their bylaws and CC&Rs will typically dictate whether or not they can do HOA online voting. If your HOA would like to adopt online voting, provided state law permits, it is necessary to amend your documents.
Pros and Cons of an HOA Online Voting System
An HOA must consider the pros and cons when considering whether to use online voting.
There are several advantages when an association takes up online voting for HOA.
- Higher Voter Turnout. Online voting allows for a higher voter turnout and better engagement. Many associations have trouble reaching a quorum because not enough voters turn up or cast their ballots. With HOA electronic voting, though, homeowners can vote from anywhere, as long as they have an Internet connection.
- More Accurate. Traditional voting uses ballots, which humans then tally. But humans are more prone to error than computers. And, an online voting system or software offers more accuracy when counting votes.
- Better Security. Security is always a concern regarding voting, mainly if your HOA uses secret ballots. Thanks to authentications and encryptions, online voting is a much safer and more secure way of voting than using physical ballots that can be easily leaked.
As for the disadvantages of HOA voting online, there are a few. First, when the entire election process is done online, voters don’t get the opportunity to get to know the candidates. In-person voting allows candidates to talk about their platform and their qualifications. Online voting removes that personal, human touch.
Of course, there is an easy workaround here. Candidates can distribute their election materials online and campaign on their own time (provided the governing documents allow it).
The second drawback is that not all homeowners are tech-savvy. Homeowners may need help to adjust to the new way of voting, while others might not know the change at all. And then some elderly voters find it difficult to use technology.
To counteract this, HOA boards should ensure effective communication and education. Make sure all homeowners know that the HOA is switching to online voting. Offer a webinar or in-person seminar to teach them how to vote and distribute written instructions. To accommodate elderly voters, consider using a hybrid system that incorporates both electronic and traditional voting.
Establishing Clear Online HOA Voting Rules
Once you have decided to utilize online voting, it is essential to establish rules. Rules play a significant role in the smooth flow of the entire process, and they allow your association to create a standard. Whenever there is a dispute or disagreement, you can refer to the rules for a resolution.
Deciding things on the fly diminishes the credibility of the electronic voting process. It creates a notion that the board is simply making decisions based on their assumptions and feelings. Nothing is set, and anything can be changed on a whim. Before long, homeowners will question the legitimacy of the election results.
The exact online voting rules, though, will depend on the HOA. Associations have different characteristics and circumstances, so it is best to tailor your rules according to the needs of your community. That said, certain rules should apply to all associations.
For one thing, your HOA should establish a deadline. There should be a clear start and end date for votes. When a voter attempts to cast their vote beyond the voting period, the system should no longer accept it.
There must also be rules within the board or election committee. People who control the software must follow strict ethical standards and guidelines. They must never leak any personal information. For secret ballots, all submitted votes must not bear names or personally identifiable details such as lot numbers or addresses.
For better security, associations should make use of logins and two-factor authentications. Once a user has voted, they may not go back and change their votes or cast another vote. These protections usually come with the online voting software, but it is still important to double-check before signing any agreements with vendors.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, HOA online voting offers many benefits to communities. An online voting system can simplify the election process or any process that requires homeowners to cast votes. With that in mind, you must make sure your HOA is allowed to use electronic votes and customize your setup according to your association’s needs.
When in doubt, an HOA management company can help. Elite Management Services is your best bet when it comes to all things HOA management. Call us today at (855) 238-8488 or contact us online to request a free proposal!
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