There is an expected uptick of interest in electronic voting in association elections. Many associations have considered it, for a variety of reasons, from saving money to combating voter apathy. But with the COVID-19 situation, many are now considering it out of necessity.
The truth is that electronic voting can be done, but it’s not easy or cheap… but it’s not horribly difficult or expensive, either. Here’s a service provided by the HOA Coach as an example.
Hybrid Election Using Election Runner
There are several services out there that provide electronic voting. For some organizations and associations with a particularly digital-savvy membership, I think it’s okay to go “all electronic.” Unfortunately, there are still people not comfortable with the online voting approach, and so I recommend having a hybrid election.
I’ve reviewed a wide range of online voting platforms, and frankly, most of them are too expensive for what you get. I finally met up with Election Runner at ElectionRunner.com. Their pricing model is more reasonable, and is easy to use by most any “modern computer user”. An email is sent to each registered voter, and voting is done securely, with validation to the voter that their ballot has been counted.
But here’s the rub: Election Runner acts like there’s no such thing as a mail-in ballot. That’s where I come in. It’s true: If you have members who have acknowledged their willingness to conduct business with you via email, you may be able to save significant costs of postage and paper. I’ll load your association’s email addresses into Election Runner, and for all other members, a hard-copy ballot packet and absentee ballot is sent, along with instructions for returning the ballot by postal mail, electronic mail, or Fax. Absentee balloting should be closed as of 5pm the day before your annual meeting. Note that Arizona statutes specify that in-person balloting is also required to be accommodated for homeowner associations (condominiums and planned communities).
Contact the HOA Coach for more information, and to receive an estimate for your association or other organization.
What I’ll Need from You
I’ll need some data from your association, including basic information for each eligible voter. Keep in mind it’s one voter per lot, so if there are multiple registered property owners, only the primary listed owner gets the electronic ballot information. In ID number should be provided by the association, which might be a Lot Number or Account Number; I’ll prefix the ID number provided with a short sequence of letters to generate the Elector ID. Full name and email address are all that are required, but additional information will be helpful. The voting system will generate a password for each elector, to be sent via email; optionally, the association can provide or generate passwords.
I know that most associations will have members that are not willing or able to cast ballots online. The HOA Coach can process written ballots in a variety of ways at an additional charge of 50 cents per written ballot received. Written ballots can be sent to the HOA Coach via fax, email, or postal mail, and the cost includes transcribing the ballot into the electronic voting system. This is the preferred option, to ensure anonymity of the voter’s choices. Another option would allow someone appointed by the association to receive and enter the ballots, but this should not be an association member; the community manager is often a good choice.
I’ll also need candidate data. I can include as much information about each candidate as needed, including one picture of each candidate.
I’ll handle uploading the voter and candidate information, and generate emails which will go to each eligible voter. In addition, I’ll provide data for mailing labels to send postcards to those for whom there is no email address, allowing them the opportunity to vote electronically. I suggest that the email and the postcard both include instructions on how to obtain and return a paper ballot. Some members may have email, but not trust electronic voting, or otherwise unwilling to unable to vote electronically. The timing should be such that a requested paper ballot can be mailed to them in time for them to vote and return the ballot via mail as well. Hopefully many people will be able to receive a PDF file of the ballot, print it, mark it up, and return it by scanning and sending or via FAX — but there will always be a few that need the extra time. Just plan on it in advance with the timeline I’ll provide.
In all cases, I will want to obtain a copy of your governing documents at the beginning of the process. I’ll review them for requirements and prohibitions relating to the election process, and work with you to accommodate those items.
Arizona Statutes on Voting
The HOA Coach works primarily with Arizona associations. If your association is not in Arizona, I will rely on you to ascertain any relevant legal ramifications.
Election Night Results
The election will have a specified end date and time, typically at the start of the annual meeting. All voting will end at that time, and after the time has passed, no additional ballots can be cast or accepted for processing. It is highly recommended that all communications with the association members include this statement in bold letters:
The election is being conducted electronically, and the polls will automatically close at <time> on <date>. Your electronic vote must be completed no later than that time in order to be counted. If you will vote with a paper ballot, the ballot must be received by <name of ballot processor> in sufficient time to be entered prior to the close of the polls.
If you are interested in exploring thje options with the HOA Coach, please connect me via Email: Coach@HOACoach.com.