Implementing Electronic Voting in Associations
A legal framework supporting electronic voting by homeowners associations (HOAs) and condominium owners associations (COAs) has existed in Florida since 2015. However, it was during the two years following the pandemic of 2020 that the use of electronic voting by associations went into overdrive. Now that the use of secure Internet-based platforms to gather and tally votes are beginning to become commonplace, many associations are considering whether to officially implement electronic voting in their communities. For these associations, important points to consider include the advantages and challenges of electronic voting and specific issues related to legal compliance.
Advantages of Electronic Voting
Flexibility – Electronic voting makes it easier for associations to achieve quorum as homeowners would no longer need to go to a physical location to attend town hall meetings and vote. Now, it is possible to instead attend sessions via video conference platforms and vote via one of several popular platforms made especially for community associations. This is an added bonus for very large communities that would otherwise struggle to pack all of its homeowners into a physical location. It is also a potential advantage for communities with a higher percentage of “snowbirds” who may be residents of other states during the summer months, but who are still members of the HOA/COA board or actively engaged in the community.
Cost Effectiveness – While the upfront cost of implementing an online voting system may be significant, over time the association will most likely save money. This is because the long term costs of designing, printing and mailing a ballot to the community can add up.
Environmental Benefits – Using electronic voting amounts to “going paperless” which not only saves money but benefits the environment. Mailing paper creates a larger carbon footprint than filling out a form online and the trees felled to create paper would have otherwise been left standing to absorb greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.
Accuracy – Human error is minimized when associations turn to an online application to collect and tally votes. As in national elections, digitizing the voting process prevents human errors like losing ballots, failing to count all the ballots and miscounting ballots. Homeowners are also more likely to remember to complete the online form rather than going through the process of filling it out on a paper form and then mailing it back. Vote tallying volunteers will also not have to interpret scratched out and spoiled ballots.
Another way that online voting is more accurate, is that it is harder to cheat the system. Committing fraud, forging a signature or tampering with the process is much harder with electronic ballots than with physical paper.
Saves time – With an electronic system, gone will be the days of volunteers gathering envelopes, opening them and individually tallying the vote. Online voting platforms not only count votes in real-time but calculate statistics and express the results in easy-to-understand reports that would otherwise take hours for a human to compile.
Challenges with Electronic Voting
Perceived privacy issues – Some people feel that new technologies are less secure than older systems. In practice, a desk full of filled ballots is not necessarily more secure than a server storing electronic ballots. HOAs and COAs using electronic systems could allay the concerns some homeowners may have about safety by installing necessary anti-hacking safeguards and anti-virus software. Associations can also work with management companies and producers of the software to create a list of reasons why the specific systems chosen are more secure than paper ballots.
“Committing fraud, forging a signature or tampering with the process is much harder with electronic ballots than with physical paper.”
Lack of in-person insight – One credible concern about online voting is that it is remote and therefore it is difficult for the voter to get to know the candidates in person or to analyze the issues in an in-person, town hall format. To get around this legitimate critique of electronic voting, associations can engage their communities with town hall meetings via video conference that, as much as possible, mimic the format of in-person meetings.
Learning curve for the non-tech savvy – Most homeowners will find it convenient to use a laptop, tablet or smartphone to cast their votes, attend essential meetings leading up to the vote and look at the results of the election online. However, a smaller group may struggle to use modern devices and thus find electronic voting difficult. Associations can overcome this issue by creating a simple tutorial that explains how the voting platform works in plain non-technical language that is easy for all to understand.
As mentioned earlier, the state of Florida views electronic elections by associations as valid if they are conducted according to a 2015 change in association law.
The 2015 changes in the law affected the voting provisions outlined in Florida Statutes Chapter 718, (for COAs), Chapter 719 (for cooperatives), and Chapter 720, (for HOAs). When a Board of Directors makes a decision to allow electronic voting, the following steps must be taken before the measure is implemented:
- A resolution must be adopted by the Board of Directors.
- Two weeks prior notice of the relevant board meeting must be sent to all owners (hand-delivered, mailed or emailed if the owner has opted-in to receive notices by email) and posted in a conspicuous location.
- The resolution must establish the process and any deadlines for owners to provide written notice to either opt in or opt out of online voting.
In addition to the process of establishing online voting, it is the right of every home or condo owner to be provided with the following by the association
- a means of ensuring that the owner’s device can communicate with the online server at least two weeks prior to the voting deadline
- a means of ensuring the integrity and secrecy of ballots cast by the Board of Directors
- a method of electronic authentication
Note: Existing procedures apply to those who opt-out of electronic voting and prefer to vote using the traditional paper-based method. Therefore it is no guarantee that an association can completely eliminate paper voting simply by implementing an online voting system.
South Florida Law
The complexities of Florida Housing Association and Condominium law make it difficult to navigate without the support of an experienced legal counsel. If your board is considering the use of electronic voting for your community, be sure not to “go it alone”. Here at South Florida Law, we have boutique firm attention to detail with the big firm resources necessary to ensure compliant implementation. Call us today at 305.900.8885 or reach out via our contact form.