The California Legislative Action Committee (CLAC) has sponsored new legislation which would allow Homeowner Associations to offer electronic voting to Members. The existing CID election procedure is intended to provide secrecy to members and involves an extensive process, including the provision of double stuffed ballots. HOAs are required to secure an inspector of elections to open and tally all ballots received in an election. A problem reported by CIDs, regardless of size, is the challenge of getting enough members of the HOA to participate in an election to achieve a quorum. For an election to be valid, the governing documents of an HOA generally require that a quorum of the members vote.In some cases HOAs are not able to achieve a quorum in the first election and must conduct subsequent elections, which they report is a costly endeavor. Ultimately this cost, like all costs to operate the CID, is borne by the members through their assessments.
Purpose of this bill: This bill would allow members of an HOA to opt in to electronic voting as an alternative to voting by paper ballot. According to the author, this bill seeks to increase voter participation in HOA elections while contributing to reductions in the use of paper and providing cost-saving opportunities for HOAs in the administration of elections. Members would be given the option to vote electronically. If they decided not to, they would receive a paper ballot and would vote according to the existing procedure outlined in law.
Secrecy of ballots: One of the main goals of the existing election procedure for CIDs is to maintain secrecy. The double stuffed ballots and independent third party inspector of elections are intended to insure that members are confident that they can freely vote without reprisal. At the same time, some HOAs contend that the existing process is cumbersome and costly and that apathetic members do not vote in elections, both of which mean HOAs incur extra costs for multiple elections. The challenge to allowing electronic balloting is balancing the desire for secrecy with the goal of greater voter participation.
Role of inspector of elections: This bill still maintains a role for the inspector of elections to receive, count, and tabulate the voting results from the electronic balloting service provider. In the case of paper ballot voting the role of the inspector is clear. With electronic voting, it is not entirely clear what type of record the electronic voting service provider would provide of the votes or how the inspector of elections would count and certify them.
Arguments in support: The board of directors of Laguna Woods Village supports this bill. Laguna Woods Village is made up of 18,000 senior citizens residing in 12,736 homes in three housing non-profit mutual benefit corporations, two condominium associations, and one cooperative housing corporation. The board of directors of Laguna Woods Village writes, “This bill would provide an option for an association such as ours to offer an opt-in electronic voting option that would afford an opportunity for increased convenience thereby increasing voter participation as well as reducing the cost of conducting elections which cost approximately $15,000 annually.”
Arguments in opposition: The Center for California Homeowner Association Law (CCHAL) opposes this bill and raises concerns that the bill could jeopardize the secrecy of the ballots. CCHAL contends the bill does not address several key questions, including how secrecy of the ballots will be maintained, how electronic ballots can be audited, and what the chain of custody is for ballots in electronic balloting. CCHAL maintains that the rationale for the bill is that electronic balloting increases voter participation, but that no research from a neutral third party establishes that this outcome will be achieved.