BOARD MEMBERS, community association managers, and homeowners have been forced to fundamentally change how they go about conducting business in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding on-site meetings is no longer feasible nor is expecting owners to cast their vote in person; both activities are simply too risky in this current state. Fortunately, the solution to these challenges already exists in the form of electronic voting.
Unfortunately, electronic voting had faced considerable resistance from a vocal minority of the community association industry here in Canada. While homeowners associations, condominium communities, and housing cooperatives in other countries have embraced electronic voting, few in Canada were even aware it was a possibility.
The pandemic changed that. Adoption levels have spiked as even the most strident critics were forced to acknowledge that not only was electronic voting the way of the future, but it is also a necessity in the present. With opponents forced to wave the white flag, electronic voting is finally getting a fair shake
In my experience, homeowners who have participated in electronic voting have high praise for it. They get to cast their vote through a secure online voting platform at their convenience and in private. They participate in the voting process and express their personal preferences—free from the influence or interference of others who may have a different agenda.
Electronic voting dramatically increases homeowner participation, frequently up to 90% or higher. Homeowners engage in the voting process and express their opinions because it is easy to do. All it takes is a click. The increased participation also ensures that quorum is easily obtained, often weeks in advance of a meeting, which translates into accountability.
Homeowners are not the only ones who vouch for electronic voting; boards and community managers motivated to serve in the best interests of their communities also have embraced it and welcome the accountability that comes with increased participation. To them, it's an affirmation and recognition of a job well done.
None of this should come as any surprise. Homeowners expect the same seamless and easy-to-use digital experience in community living as they do in other areas of their lives. The very notion that an owner should need to use a proxy to give someone else the right to cast a vote on their behalf seems like a holdover from a different era.
It's easy to see why even before the pandemic, electronic voting was the norm in over half the states in the U.S. and spreading rapidly. It also is easy to see why some states, like Arizona and Florida, have passed legislation that prohibits proxy voting, and other states are in the process of doing the same.
Arizona prohibits proxy voting after the developer passes control of the condominium to the homeowners. Florida, another state with a high density of condominiums, prohibits proxy voting for board elections. Illinois states that once a condominium adopts electronic voting in its rules and regulations, proxy voting is no longer allowed for board elections. New Jersey recently allowed condos to use electronic voting and, at the same time, passed a law that prohibits condos from offering proxies to owners unless they also allow owners to cast absentee ballots, effectively rendering proxies meaningless.
Why are these states passing laws to prohibit or severely curtail the use of proxies? Experience has shown that proxy votes may entrench incumbent directors by concentrating power and decision-making in the hands of a few—resulting in low director turnover, minimal accountability, and conflicts of interest that favor the few at the expense of the many.
Some U.S. states are now discussing whether the ban on proxies should include any type of election the association holds. There is a reason proxies have been banned in political elections in most democratic countries; if the goal is to ensure the integrity of the electoral process, allowing someone else to cast your vote makes no sense.
Canadians have historically been slow adopters. We are cautious by nature, we encourage consultation, and we seek consensus— all of which take time. But when it comes to electronic voting, the need for its widespread adoption is self-evident and urgent.
Those seeking to resist the tides of change and hang on to the inherently flawed system of proxy voting (whether by electronic or paper means) may have their own reasons for doing so, but the COVID-19 pandemic should make them concede that electronic voting is both the present and the future, and in the best interest of the communities they serve.
Denise Lash is founder and principal of Lash Condo Law in Toronto and a principal of CondoVoter, which provides services for electronic voting and virtual meetings. She also is a founding member and past president of CAI's Canada Chapter. firstname.lastname@example.org
» Your Turn: What has been your experience with electronic voting?
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