COVID-19 pushes condos towards alternative forms of voting

The subject of voting on-line is certainly top of mind when many organizations, including condominium corporations consider virtual meetings and if there are any alternatives to voting in person or by proxy at an in-person meeting.

The following asks questions that need consideration and comments on the pros and cons of alternative voting methods.

The concept of voting in alternative ways has generated a great deal of political debate and challenges after WWII. We have seen the advent of special consideration for those with physical disabilities who cannot attend the polls due to mobility issues, individuals who are incarcerated, and members of the military and diplomats serving abroad. Electoral polls have become mobile for those who might not vote due to difficulty in traveling to the polls (e.g. seniors, rural residents). Voting has evolved in many ways with the goal of generating greater participation in the electoral (voting) process.   

COVID-19 with its lockdown and stay-at-home directives has forced the condominium community to shift to possible on-line and telephonic meetings of the ownership. As a result, we are forced on determining how voting will take place.

Whether you opt for a form of mail-in or electronic voting, certain factors must be attended to. This list is not exhaustive and not in any order.

  1. Condominium Boards must ensure that there is an accurate list of eligible voters. Since the right to vote belongs to the unit owner of record, boards must be vigilant in not extending the right to vote to tenants unless the owner has given the tenants the right to vote on their behalf by proxy.
  2. If considering a mail-in (paper) vote, boards must guard against the possibility of fraud by ballot duplication. Some form of legitimate ballot identification must be created to guard against tampering.
  3. Mail-in votes should not be counted in advance to avoid preliminary results from leaking and affecting votes not already cast.
  4. If advance voting is permitted, will it affect attendance at an in-person or virtual meeting. Having voted in advance, people will not consider their attendance important. They will have already made their wishes known.
  5. Proxies and ownership percentage must be considered when counting votes. This is a tedious task if done manually but can be handled easily by on-line voting programs.
  6. The system must ensure a unique ID for each voter to ensure one vote per unit.
  7. Voting instructions must be clear to avoid a member’s inability to vote because of unclear directions.
  8. All necessary notices and documentation must be sent to eligible voters in advance of the voting period.
  9. Consideration should be given to holding a forum for voters to ask questions/clarifications regarding matters to be voted upon that are beyond the usual administrative motions presented at an AGM. Usually approval of the previous year’s minutes, approval of the auditor’s report, and the appointment of the next year’s auditor are routine and non-controversial. These may not require an advance Q&A before a vote.
  10. What is the plan if there is a technical malfunction (e.g. vote database is lost, individual voters have a computer crash and cannot vote, a power failure prevents some voters from casting their vote before the deadline?)

Finally, in some jurisdictions governing documents state that a proxy or an electronic vote counts towards establishing the quorum for an AGM. If enough votes are cast to establish quorum, must a meeting still be held? An AGM is usually considered a “deliberative assembly.” This means that people get together to communicate with each other, debate the pros and cons of the issues, and after hearing all sides make an informed decision. Will voting in isolation lead to more voters but less informed voters? These questions and others will be resolved in time, but temporary mechanisms must be put in place now to guarantee that the democratic process is maintained.

Pros of alternative voting mechanisms

  1. Will increase participation in affairs of the corporation.
  2. Will remove or at least reduce the possibility of proxy solicitation.
  3. Will be more convenient.
  4. Voters may have more time to consider the issues and thus make more informed decisions.
  5. May do away with scrutineers.
  6. Can be cost effective if you would normally have to rent facilities to hold the AGM.

Cons of alternative voting mechanisms

  1. Costs may be prohibitive depending on the level of expert help required to set up and the number of voters to accommodate. Costs may be set per vote that will be cast, the number of potential voters or variations thereof.
  2. Technical expertise. For condos with more than 10-unit owners, a virtual AGM and electronic voting may not be a DIY project.
  3. The type of internet connection could frustrate the exercise.
  4. Challenges in setting up voting stations at an in-person meeting.
  5. May reduce attendance at in-person meeting (AGM).

Switching from an in-person meeting to a virtual gathering, and opting for electronic voting, will require a lot of work. Be prepared! Practice in advance. Best wishes!

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