Many community associations struggle with member involvement. In fact, today’s busy lifestyles make it difficult, even for the most civically minded homeowner, to find time to be engaged in the governance of their community association. This is bad news.
Homeowner involvement is key to keeping a community association vibrant and involvement also prevents apathy that leads to control groups or less than responsive boards. Many associations have struggled with incentives to encourage member participation, but increasingly many boards see electronic voting as a mechanism to lower barriers to participation in neighborhood governance.
If your community is like many across the country, often times it is a struggle to get a quorum for annual meetings. This can have impacts beyond just the inconvenience of low participation. Votes to approve budgets, amend documents or update membership on important capital projects can all be impacted. But increasingly many communities are looking to the internet to help grow member participation through electronic voting.
Electronic voting is not a new concept. In fact, millions of American’s exercise their voting rights weekly by calling in to vote for favorite contestants on an array of reality shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Of course voting for entertainment is a bit different from voting for officials whose decisions can impact the value of your property, but these differences are not big.
The biggest challenge for community associations when looking at electronic voting has traditionally been antiquated laws. However, in the past few years the number of states that have amended HOA and Condo laws to allow electronic voting has grown significantly. Today residents in over 20 states can use electronic voting for HOA or condominium matters.
Electronic voting offers many benefits to an association. First, it allows resident owners the ability to vote anytime during an election period from their desk or even mobile device. Second, electronic voting is inexpensive, especially when compared to mailing paper ballots to all eligible residents within a community. Finally, electronic voting does not preclude a paper option for those without access to a computer or those not particularly versed in online navigation.
Security and transparency is also an issue for implementing electronic voting. This issue made headlines in the early 2000s with the famous Diebold touchscreen voting machines during the Presidential election. But, nearly all electronic voting vendors have processes in place to ensure both the security and integrity of the voting process. As with any change, residents may be unsettled by a lack of understanding of the process or technology. Prior to implementing an electronic voting process, it is a good idea to host an educational session to explain the process to residents.
Of course there is no one perfect solution alone that works to boost community involvement. But electronic voting holds promise, especially in larger communities, to reduce costs and grow member participation.