Association Elections with the Click of a Mouse
By Kurtis Peterson, Partner, The Inspectors of Election, LLC
If you have not been tapping on a new iPad yet, you are not alone but soon will be. Just about everyone today has some form of connection to the world wide web. Going to the mailbox is quickly becoming a task less exciting as it only seems to be loaded with advertising and bills. Those once hand-written meaningful letters are now much more likely to come via text or email. If you don’t believe me, ask your kid when was the last time they received a letter from their friends in the mailbox. Even postcards from exotic, distant places have been replaced with a picture in a text message stating: "Wish you were here!”
One of the most recent signs of the times is the end of an 80-year run in print for Newsweek magazine, with its last print issue dated 12-31-12. Newsweek is now the most widely-read print media yet to forgo physical printing. "Newsweek’s switch is a signpost of how traditional print news outlets are being battered by an exodus of readers and advertisers to the Web,” states Robert Daniel in an online article in the Wall Street Journal.
If one of the largest print magazines in the world is switching to online only, you should be able to see that the trend is clear and unwavering.
As the post office increases its price on postage annually to compensate for steadily declining revenue stolen by electronic communication, postal customers (including Community Associations) feel the pinch in their bottom line. Additionally, as a society we are becoming more and more mindful of the need to conserve our natural resources.
To that end, 26 states have already modified or adopted legislation to allow electronic communication in conducting the affairs of a Community Association, such as elections, to be the standard instead of an exception to the rule.
Minnesota was not the first state to pass legislation to allow for electronic voting, although the Legislature recognized the electronic communication trend and made appropriate reforms to accommodate for how people give and receive information in today’s technological environment.
The amendments to the law pertaining to online voting now state:
317A.015 Legal Recognition of Electronic Records and Signatures
Subdivision 1. Definitions.
(a) For purposes of this section, the words, terms, and phrases defined in this subdivision have the meanings given them. (b) "Electronic” means relating to technology having electrical, digital, magnetic, wireless, optical, electromagnetic, or similar capabilities. (c) "Electronic record” means a record created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means. (d) "Electronic signature” means an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record. (e) "Record” means information that is inscribed on a tangible medium or that is stored in an electronic or other medium and is retrievable in perceivable form.
Subdivision 2. Electronic records and signatures.
For purposes of this chapter:
(1) a record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form; (2) a contract may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because an electronic record was used in its formation; (3) if a provision requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the requirement; and (4) if a provision requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies the requirement.
Section 515B.3-110 authorizes notices under MCIOA to be given by electronic means (i) if given in compliance with the statute under which the CIC association was created and (ii) if electronic notice is not limited or prohibited by the articles of incorporation, bylaws or declaration governing the CIC.
515B.3-110 Voting; Proxies.
The Amendment adds provisions authorizing voting by electronic means; provided that such voting is in compliance with the applicable statute under which the association was incorporated.
Association online voting popularity is growing quickly. There are many online voting resources to choose from with varying levels of service. Some offer just an electronic venue to self-produce an election. Others offer all-inclusive, turnkey, inspector of election services that handle the entire election process independently, acting similarly to a local registrar of voters. Most online voting services will offer some form of hybrid solution to provide paper ballots for members who are not technologically inclined or vehemently opposed to using the internet to perform a service ingrained as tangible.
Aspects that make online voting and elections most appealing to community associations include:
- Easy — Homeowners can access the information for a voting event from any computer, tablet or handheld device, any place in the world. Depending on the election voting structure, users can view meeting notice and information; participate in candidate signup and review candidate statements; review voting rules; and ultimately make their decision and vote their online ballot. Quorum can be monitored and email reminders can be sent to improve voting participation. Results can be tabulated electronically which eliminates the need for hand counting paper ballots.
- Paper Ballot Constraints – Paper ballots have historically been challenging. Who will ever forget the hanging chads in the highly contentious 2000 Presidential election in Florida? Poorly worded paper ballots can also promote voter confusion. Once voted, guessing intentions of incorrectly voted ballots can be disheartening for the inspector of election. Online voting can eliminate questions and mismarked/improperly voted ballots. There is no need to erase a vote when you can simply click a different choice.
- Green — No more paper and ink waste. Everything can be handled electronically. Information sharing, notices, agendas, candidate submission and review, voting, and election results reporting can all be handled electronically. For those members without email addresses listed with the association, a single page informational sheet can be sent with information on how they can access their online voting event.
- Cost Effective — Taking an election online can reduce or even eliminate the need for paper, envelopes, printing and postage. These expenses end up being a majority of the overall cost of any election process. You also have to think about the time and energy it takes to prepare and handle these individual pieces to get them to your association members. This table represents a comparison of the voting means and a breakdown of the estimated savings in direct costs for printing, envelopes and postage for an association. Online Estimated Direct Costs are based on mailing only a single page online access letter to 50% of the membership ($.72 x Number of Units x 50%). The Normal Estimated Direct Costs includes mailing an 8-page election package with ballot, envelopes and mailing postage. The base cost per election package is $1.90.
|Number of Units||Online Estimated Direct Costs||Normal Estimated Direct Costs||Online Savings|
Time Savings — Updates, completion of candidate statements and balloting are done in real time. There is no need to wait for the mail to receive information, track quorum, vote or obtain the balloting results.
- Liquidity — Changes to documentation can occur on the fly without having to re-mail an entire election package. If there is a problem or change in venue for the meeting, associations can quickly change the information online and send out an update in an email.
There are certain factors that associations should consider in their decision to take an election online.
- Email Distribution — Having a large list of emails for association members is always great but getting through can be difficult. It is important to keep members informed of incoming information about an online voting event. Members should accept a specific senders’ email address and mark it as "safe.” Associations should also try to keep their membership email lists as clean as possible. Remove any email addresses that bounce back. This will help keep the senders’ email out of spam-blocking companies like Spamhaus.
- Internet Security — This is the biggie. Make sure any online voting system you use is protected both internally and externally and passing all information through current encryption protocols. Members will very quickly lose faith in the system if they fear there is any vulnerability. Members should have individual usernames and passwords to access a specific voting event online. Passwords should not be duplicated and not easy to guess.
- Paper Trail — All information that passes through the system should be able to be replicated on paper for members questioning the process. A good internet voting system will provide confirmation for member actions and an electronic trail of all activity that happens within the system, which can be reproduced at any time.
- Data Backup — All information on any system should have a viable backup system in place. If the system fails, all data including voters’ results should be protected and able to be retrieved instantly.
Every day the world grows a smaller with all the technological inventions that are being introduced. As we make every attempt to keep up, it moves exponentially faster. Whether by cell phone, smart phone, iPad, iPod, laptop, or desktop, using electronic means of communication in today’s world is unavoidable. Change is inevitable, Change is good!
Kurtis Peterson is a partner in The Inspectors of Election, LLC, and provides expertise in internet and other technologies. He has been working in web design and development since 1999. Kurtis has a marketing degree from the University of St.Thomas College in St. Paul, MN, and has recently obtained the M-100 Certificate with CAI as he actively pursues his CMCA and higher industry designations.
Published by Community Associations Institute — Minnesota Chapter, copyright 2013. All articles and paid advertising represent the opinions of authors and advertisers and not necessarily the opinion of either Minnesota Community Living or CAI–Minnesota Chapter. The information contained within should not be construed as a recommendation for any course of action regarding financial, legal, accounting, or other professional services by the CAI–Minnesota Chapter, or by Minnesota Community Living, or its authors. Articles, letters to the editor, and advertising may be sent to Chapter Staff Editor Joe Flannigan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at CAI–Minnesota Chapter, 1000 Westgate Dr., Suite 252, St. Paul, MN 55114.