Voting is an important aspect of homeowner engagement in an HOA, especially for annual meetings.
Homeowners’ voices are heard through voting to adopt or amend the governing documents, levy a special assessment, or most notably, for the election of board candidates. Voting can be conducted in person, by proxy (in Texas, but not in Arizona), online, or via ballot through either the system of straight voting or cumulative voting.
So, what’s the difference between systems?
Straight voting is the common practice of allotting one vote per position; on the other hand, cumulative voting allocates the number of votes parallel to the number of open positions. For the sake of this article, we will discuss cumulative voting, which remains the more complicated – and controversial – of the two.
Simply put, cumulative voting permits each eligible voter a number of votes equal to the positions available on the board (e.g., 5 positions is equal to five total votes). In this method, a voter can cast all their votes for a single candidate, or divide the votes among various candidates (e.g., 3 for candidate A and 2 for candidate B, adding up to 5 votes in total). Cumulative voting allows voters to essentially “stack” their votes in favor of the candidate they prefer, giving their top candidate a higher chance of winning.
Also referred to as accumulation voting, weighted voting, or multi-voting, this practice strengthens the ability of minority parties to be elected and, in theory, offers proportional representation for the voting party. Additionally, to better the stakes, voters can express their passion for a particular candidate by reserving their votes solely for that candidate. However, cumulative voting is not without its flaws.
Cumulative voting is considered a controversial method due to its potential to serve as a barrier to newer candidates, possibly preventing their election to the board. In this way, cumulative voting can stagnate board positions, allowing the same directors to hold the same positions year after year. While having the same board can provide stability and familiarity for the community, it can also possibly prevent positive change and progressive ideas. Associations evolve, and regardless of board members changing or staying the same, its board should evolve as well. Increasing the weight toward a single candidate, cumulative voting allows a candidate to receive the largest vote count despite not having the highest number of voters, so the majority voice may not be fairly represented.
Although some states are grandfathered in, many states have outlawed cumulative voting as a practice.
In Texas, condominium associations prohibit cumulative voting. For incorporated, nonprofit residential subdivisions, the practice is also not allowed, unless two things happen:
- The articles of incorporation explicitly allow cumulative voting.
- The owner provides written notice by the day prior to the election to the association’s secretary of their intent to vote by cumulative voting.
In Arizona, for cumulative voting to be permitted:
- The meeting notice must expressly state that cumulative voting is allowed.
- A voting member, eligible for cumulative voting, must give notice during the meeting and before the vote of the intent to vote in this manner, which enables other members of the same voting group to also participate in cumulative voting.
Your association bylaws, CC&Rs, and state laws influence the possibility of cumulative voting for your association. Still, the risks outweigh the benefits, and this method is often discouraged. Voting should be a fair (and fun!) vehicle for homeowners to express their voice and the method your association chooses should reflect that. Discuss with your board and HOA management company to decide in your association’s best interest.