On February 17, 2011, the New Jersey Legislature introduced a new bill to help ensure fairness and accuracy in homeowners’ association elections. New Jersey Assembly Bill (A3802)—or its companion bill in the Senate (S1293)—sponsored in the Assembly by Reps. Nelson T. Albano, D-1, and Matthew W. Milam, D-1, both representing Cape May, Millville and Vineland, addresses a number of issues surrounding homeowners associations including recalling and removing HOA officials, creating a governing board, election timing, voters’ eligibility and allowing for electronic voting. The bill is a significant move towards achieving and establishing fair election procedures and a great move forward for on line voting for homeowners associations.
New Jersey Bill Opens Up Electronic Voting
Electronic voting in New Jersey is specifically addressed in section 3. c. of the bill: “An owner shall be allowed to choose to cast a ballot anonymously for the election of governing board members. An owner also shall be allowed to cast a ballot by mail, in person, or if the association permits, by electronic ballot. A mailed ballot or an electronic ballot shall be deemed to be a proxy for purposes of determining a quorum for the meeting at which the election is conducted.”
For many HOA officials in the Garden State, that’s welcome news. Recent data from Pew Research Center and the AARP indicates more people than ever before are online. Electronic voting provides a way to engage connected homeowners in elections.
Engaging Homeowners Online
Homeowners can’t always be present for in-person voting. Allowing homeowners a place to vote online for measures and officials engages them in the election process. More and more people use the Internet at least occasionally or for regular events and activities, like paying bills. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, of Americans living in households that earn $75,000 or more annually, 95% use the Internet at least occasionally. Of those Internet users, most of them use the Internet at home. And 93% of these Internet users use a high-speed connection, like broadband.
By providing homeowners with an easy way to vote online for HOA elections, homeowners associations can involve residents in elections, encouraging them to vote by making voting easy. Some HOAs even elect to go to an online-only election, to simplify things for the officials and the voters. Homeowners on the whole are busy people, who may not have the time to drop by an election in between carpooling and work. Electronic voting allows homeowners to quickly register online, review candidates’ profiles and issues on the ballot, and then vote or return to vote anytime during the election period. It’s a big timesaver, and one that homeowners want.
Is Electronic Voting Secure?
Homeowners associations that work with a reputable online voting company will find that electronic voting is safe and secure. In-person voting can cause problems for officials who have to be present for voting and have to ensure accuracy and fairness throughout the election process. Mail-in voting can also be problematic for HOA officials, who have to rely on an outside entity to ensure ballots are received in a timely manner.
Homeowners also appreciate the security of online voting. Assigning election tabulation to an impartial third-party entity gives residents peace of mind, and provides an extra layer of security to the voting process.
HOA officials might be concerned that older residents won’t use online voting due to concerns about Internet security but that concern might be obsolete. According to Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, “The perception is that Americans over 50 only dabble on the Internet but we are finding that they are increasingly spending time online becoming involved in robust Internet activities, such as online communities. In specific areas, there is often little difference in use of online technology between older users and some of the youngest users.”
Is Electronic Voting Difficult to Set Up?
Setting up electronic voting isn’t hard to do. The database used to upload information about homeowners already exists amongst HOA officials’ tools. Creating an election and entering ballot information and details about candidates online doesn’t take much time, either. When compared to the often confusing and time-consuming processes around in-person voting and mail-in voting, electronic voting quickly proves to be a real timesaver.
About the Other Provisions
In addition to providing for homeowner associations to choose an electronic voting method, this bill also contains provisions related to recall, and proper meeting protocol. This bill, according to the legislative summary, sets standards for election and recall of governing board members of homeowners' associations, which are formed to manage commonly-owned elements in condominiums, cooperatives, and certain planned communities with common elements. The bill would limit the size of governing boards of such communities comprised of less than 11 homes, to three members. The bill requires that associations permit owners to vote anonymously for governing board members, and establishes fair election procedures. Violations of these procedures could be appealed to the state entity having oversight of planned communities, which currently is the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The bill also establishes standard procedures for recall votes of governing board officers or trustees, and provides that any member of the governing board may be recalled and removed from office, with or without cause, by the vote of, or agreement in writing by, a majority of the members present and eligible to vote at a meeting called for that purpose, provided that any vote to recall shall be initiated only upon a petition of at least five percent of all owners. The bill provides that a special meeting of the association membership to vote for the recall of a member or members of the governing board may be called by 10 percent of the members giving notice of the meeting as required for a meeting of members.
How Will New Jersey Electronic Voting Change Things for Your HOA?
The verbiage in this bill allows for drastic reforms in New Jersey. It’s been a long time coming, and it allows for great change and improvements to how things were done in the past. As you look to restructure your own HOA elections, electronic voting is one improvement to consider. As of the time of publication, the Assembly’s version of the bill is pending in the Housing and Local Government Committee.
Scott McKeel runs VoteHOANow.com, an electronic voting website for HOAs. He resides in Oregon City, Oregon.