3 Keys to Running Smooth Association Elections
Condominium and community associations are – to a large extent – a microcosm of democracy. Board members are association members that are elected by the people for the people. Each unit owner has the legal right to cast a vote for candidates at each annual election. This framework serves the overall interests of each condominium and community association. It also introduces politics into communities, which may lead to contentious elections. Some of the hardest times for associations surround annual elections and at the center of it all are board members. However, annual elections may be manageable and even satisfying if three concepts are followed.
All condominium and community associations are created by the recording of governing documents in the county where the property is located. Most association governing documents consist of a declaration, bylaws and any amendments to them. The bylaws usually consist of a separate document attached to the declaration as an exhibit. However, sometimes bylaws are contained within the declaration as a designated article or articles. Regardless of their location, bylaws exist and contain the election roadmap.
It is extremely important for boards to read and discuss election procedures found in their governing documents. While most election procedures are similar in form and structure, they are unique to each association and each set of bylaws. This makes it very important for boards to fully understand what they say and the procedures they require. The quickest way to derail an association election is for a board to unknowingly permit a method of voting that is not authorized by the association’s bylaws. If questions arise during board discussions when reviewing election procedure, it is advisable to consult with legal counsel for interpretation. Sometimes ambiguous language is used within governing documents that causes confusion amongst the board. Once the board reads, discusses and agrees upon the election procedure, then a timeline should be established and communicated to association members.
Clear, Concise and Timely Communication
Most boards invest the time reading and understanding how to conduct their annual elections in compliance with their governing documents. Problems tend to arise, however, when boards attempt to communicate the election procedure to association members. Communicating the election procedure must be clear, concise, and timely. For example, boards must make it abundantly clear how many board positions are open, how many candidates are running for the board, eligibility requirements that may exist to run for the board, the means in which owners may cast votes, details about how to submit votes in advance, and hard and fast deadlines for the election process.
The importance of timeliness cannot be overstated. Usually an election timeline includes three critical deadlines: 1) the date by which candidate submission forms must be submitted; 2) the date by which mail-in ballots must be submitted; and 3) the date of the annual election. The initial communication from the board must give owners a reasonable period of time to submit their candidacy. Owners should be given a minimum of two to three weeks to make this decision. Once the slate of candidates has been established, owners should have sufficient time to review the credentials of all candidates and to submit their ballots. This requires the board to send a second notice identifying all known candidates well in advance of the mail-in ballot deadline, if permitted. Finally, owners must receive sufficient notice of the date, time and location of the annual election and within the notice standards set forth in applicable law (e.g. Illinois Condominium Property Act or Common Interest Community Association Act).
Fairness is Key
The board, often in conjunction with management, is obligated to oversee and conduct annual elections. It may not, however, express a preference for an individual candidate or a select few candidates. It must always maintain impartiality and conduct the election in a fair, transparent and honest manner. This seems obvious and easy but sometimes this is not the case.
All candidates should receive the same opportunity to submit nominations and information relating to their credentials. Similarly, all candidates should be given the same information about any “meet the candidates” night and any campaigning that may be permitted.
The board should also be careful to select the order in which names appear on the proxies and ballots. Sometimes listing candidate names in alphabetical order is the easiest technique to ensure complete impartiality. Utilizing alphabetical order when inviting candidates to speak at “meet the candidates” night is also effective in demonstrating impartiality.
If budgets permit, the board may consider hiring an independent accounting firm to assist with tallying proxies and ballots on election night. Similarly, legal counsel may assist with reviewing proxies and ballots to ensure their legal validity. The further removed the board is from the ballot and proxy tabulation process the better. If an association does not have the aid of legal counsel or an independent accounting firm, it is wise to request the assistance of volunteers to assist with the proxy and ballot tabulation process. Of course, volunteers must not be candidates or related to candidates.
Boards that follow these three straightforward concepts will likely run smooth and efficient annual elections. This, in turn, builds trust and rapport within the community while increasing harmony. It also alleviates unnecessary aggravation and encourages passionate owners with new ideas to serve on the board.
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