Online voting is a great tool designed to pair the greatest need of an HOA—homeowner involvement—with a technological solution.
As a follow-up to an earlier article about community voting, this week we will share the benefits and challenges of online voting for your HOA. Then, we will provide some best practices to consider when planning your own campaign involving online voting.
There are three main benefits to online voting: the results are easy to track, it encourages participation, and it makes meeting quorum a cinch.
Online voting companies today can have all your results in one, easy-to-find place with the click of a button (and will store that information for you if you ever need to perform a recount). Storing information digitally also saves you from going through paper ballots by hand, which makes the process much faster.
Another key benefit of online voting is that it encourages participation. With traditional voting mechanisms, you either go in person to the meeting to cast your vote, or you send in the proxy. If you choose to send in the proxy, you have two options: send it in via mail or bring the proxy to the management company or community office in person.
With online voting, homeowners can sit in the comfort of their living rooms and conveniently learn about their candidates and submit their vote from their favorite device.
By decreasing the barrier to participate you’ll likely get much higher participation, which segues us straight into the third key benefit of online voting: it makes meeting quorum much easier. If your association is one that traditionally has trouble meeting quorum, your odds of having a successful meeting will be higher if you include online voting as an option.
Now, let’s highlight three potential challenges regarding online voting for HOAs:
- Compliance. Like traditional elections, online elections must meet legal guidelines. Your professional manager and your online voting provider can help if you are in compliance with all federal, state, and local ordinances before you start any new initiative, as laws can, and do, change.
- Protect homeowner data. Electronic voting is still a budding technology and is a fantastic convenience. As a board member, when running an online election, it’s critical to ensure voter integrity is maintained. Your chosen platform should provide these protections. In other words, having a voting record will ensure that there is a way to implement checks and balances in the system in case anyone ever claims fraudulent activity occurred during the election. While there should be a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, having detailed records will actually protect the HOA’s liability.
- Homeowners may need guidance on voting online. Since online voting is relatively new to the HOA industry, you will want to make sure homeowners understand their online voting options. For example, consider including a how-to guide or FAQ when you send the online voting instructions.
To have a successful HOA voting experience, please consider the following four tips:
- Choose your vendor. If you have a management company, your community manager will guide you in choosing the vendor that is right for you. Here are a few questions to ask: How many times per year will you utilize this service? What level of customer service will you expect? Asking these questions will help you focus on what’s most important to you in a service provider.
- Decide what you want online voting to be used for. Be aware that you have the option to mix and match voting options. Do you want online voting to be used only for proxies, or do you want homeowners to be able to elect board members online, too? Knowing the full spectrum of your options will allow you to decide what’s best for your individual community. For example, we recommend using an online voting option for votes that require a high percentage of homeowner participation.
- Include as much information as possible in the online voting instructions. If there is any information you believe will improve homeowners’ understanding of the voting process, include it. Items to have within the website include board member candidate profiles, information regarding voting procedures, and any sections of the CC&Rs or legal statutes that may affect the outcome of the vote. For example, if a candidate has to be at the annual meeting in order to receive the office, include that information.
- Be proactive in your communication. Because online voting is relatively new, many homeowners may not understand it’s an option. Be sure to include instructions for online voting in any mail out, and consider making signs to post throughout your community, too. The more information about online voting that’s out there, the more the service will be utilized.
Online voting will likely increase homeowner participation in your HOA and give boards an important tool they can use to gather information about the preferences of homeowners within their community. While online voting may not be right for every HOA, implementing a few of the above tips can increase homeowners’ participation.