Trustworthy and Tamper-Proof HOA/Condo Board Elections?

guest blog by Bob Frank (Air Force Col. Retired)

 

It is a fact that CID board elections are the ONLY way that members can actually influence the management of their common properties and finances.  And, since candidates for boards and members of community management companies are not routinely cleared as trustworthy according to government standards, the election processes themselves MUST be provable as being “trustworthy/tamper-proof” by the association members.

Therefore, I submit it should be mandatory that secret ballot board elections implement (1) audit-trails, (2) use “tamper-proof” devices, (3) be certified as end-to-end trustworthy, and (4) be capable of independent auditing by licensed, trained professionals.

And, I claim that any board election that can not be auditable as trustworthy should be invalid.  Why would government officials and trade association professionals be allowed to tolerate potentially corrupt board elections?

Should the trade association adopt the following or similar terms and require that all HOA/Condo board elections follow such definitions and implement “trustworthy board elections” capable of being audited by 3rd party professionals?

Or, should board elections be taken away from CID boards and management companies and that there be a new licensed and bonded, “Independent Trusted Elections Professional” be required on a part time basis by state statutes as auditors and attorney are?

Am I on the right track for this topic?  Do you agree it is likely possible to conduct such improvements in CID elections at reasonable costs?  If you wish, I can explain how I would design such a system using hard-copy and/or electronic processes.

Bob Frank

10 thoughts on “Trustworthy and Tamper-Proof HOA/Condo Board Elections?

  1. Dave Russell

    Bob,

    You are correct. It has always been my belief that a third party should handle HOA elections. Certified public accounting firms, who are licensed, bonded and are held to a strict set of ethical standards would be my suggestion.

    Now here in Arizona, the Legislature has just pushed through a pretty nasty bill (SB 1482). The law now allows for “facsimile and email voting.” Unfortunately, the new law gives no instructions for implementation. Therefore, I can only imagine this will be a new way to electronically stuff the ballot boxes.

    As we all know well, these management companies want the people who hired them to stay on-board. In today’s modern world fixing the HOA election process shouldn’t be very difficult.

    Now how simple would this solution be? Have the CPA firms mail out the ballots with a barcode (prevents stuffing the ballot box). Have the CPA count the ballots. There you go, its that easy, and shouldn’t cost much.

    I could also see this working with email or facsimile voting. Barcode’s don’t lie, if a duplicate barcode is submitted it invalidates the vote.

    Reply
  2. Bob Frank

    Some additional thoughts are:

    Why do so many of those who make their (perhaps generous) salaries from payments by HOA/Condo Boards object so strongly against conducting tamper-proof/trustworthy elections?

    There has been no suggestion that one process must be used for all sizes of associations. Of course, a dozen units do not need the same types of system tools/procedures as 5,000 units.

    A mission goal of a national trade association should include policies and recommended best practices for achieving tamper-proof board elections for all sizes and types of member associations and licensed professionals.

    It troubles me that our trade group and its members seem to avoid supporting such ethical standards as part of its mission and vision. Why is that?

    Why would it not be best for our professionals to strongly advocate affordable and practical board election processes that provides high confidence in “trustworthy” board election results?

    After all, the association board makes the decisions on whether to have “trustworthy elections” or not. Our professionals and members of the state Legislatures should be on record advocating for high levels of integrity when electing HOA directors. Right?

    Every licensed community manager and every management company are capable of individually and independently promoting such high election integrity assurance practices at reasonable costs.

    And, I suggest that those companies who commit to such ethical practices will earn higher market reputations and be more likely to earn more competitive business and become more profitable.

    What is wrong with such classic, practical management thinking?

    Reply
  3. Bob Frank

    By the way, a common oversight in discussing elections is the matter of who has the authority and potential legal criminal liabilities for serving as the “election certifying official”?

    Such responsibilities would be small if the process offers a clear audit trail and tamper-proof protections for ballot handling from end-to-end. Since “certification of an election” is normally not reversible, a thorough background check and overall character and integrity of such an individual should be validated as exceptionally high.

    Could we agree that such a person should not have financial conflicts of interest with payments from the board or management company? And, could it be possible for licensed individuals to receive responsibilities similar to something like construction site inspectors?

    Reply
  4. Deborah Goonan

    Bob, I agree that there needs to be a voting system that has integrity, not just for electing the Board, but also for voting on critical business matters such as amending the governing documents.

    Dave has a good suggestion as well.

    I am appalled by the fact that the trade group professionals discussing the matter are flatly against any and all regulation of HOAs. They characterize a small additional cost for ensuring the validity of ballots as “punishing” associations that already have a fair system in place. They offer no convincing rationale for opposing such changes, instead spewing rhetoric about the horrors of government regulation and its unintended consequences. But what about the “unintended” or even INTENDED consequences of the many harmful regulations that have been pushed through state legislatures all over the country – the kind that give HOA Boards nearly unlimited power to unilaterally enact rules and regulations, to issue fines and other penalties without due process, to lien and foreclose homes?

    Honest, thinking, and competent leaders do not enact petty or self-serving rules, and then selectively enforce them. Let’s face it, some Board leaders are harmful to the HOA and its owners. Owners are supposed to have the power to “vote the bums out” , but that is often a half-truth or pure fantasy in HOAs, where a handful of members control the vote, and, therefore, the HOA. Either a few people hold all the proxies, or, if ballots are used, then a few control the handling of those ballots.

    It is a fact all over the world: bad elections almost always result in bad leaders.

    Reply
  5. Jill Schweitzer

    How about legislation giving the owners the right to vote to fire a management company – they are often times part of the problem. Based on my own experience, the management company, HOA attorney and board want to make all the rules on elections so they can keep who they want in control.

    Reply
    1. tom dee

      The real question is why do they need a management company? Collect money is done by many companies so why would then need an outside firm to do routine clerical work? Inspections should only be done when one member complains about a possible offense. Our HOA inspects the house 4 to 5 times a week. I did not have that kind of inspects even in the military. What does the mostly real estate company ofer to the board of directors over a direct hire to handle things. If an employee cannot do the work they arm making it too difficult. If the hoa is unhappy they can quit. There is zero reason to hire outside. Our hoa has a member who owns the outside company so she is paying herself to do work which she should do as a board member.

      Reply
      1. Robert Frank

        Mr. Dee, you said “Our hoa has a member who owns the outside company so she is paying herself to do work which she should do as a board member.”

        In Nevada and most other states, that sounds like it could be a criminal statute violation. It may be a case of “self dealing” defined as “a situation where one takes an action in an official capacity which involves dealing with oneself in a private capacity and which confers a benefit on oneself.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-dealing

        If you have any written evidence, you might want to consult with a private investigator who can help you formulate a request for criminal investigation by your responsible law enforcement agency.

        Reply
  6. Robert Frank

    This was posted in part on the CAI LinkedIn group in response to complaining management company executives over my pressing for implementing trustworthy board elections. It has some comments that others might find useful when debating why unit owners often do not trust board election results.

    ——–

    If you are not perfectly satisfied with election processes, it would be helpful if you (mgt. company executive) could help us readers understand why you oppose establishing audit trails, end-to-end audits, tamper-proof ballot materials/holding boxes, etc. so the end results can be fully trusted by ALL unit members.

    Surely you know that some untrusted components make the whole system vulnerable to fraud?

    If assured trustworthy board elections are mutually desirable, and financially feasible, all should be able to agree on such a policy for industry professionals to follow.

    And, as I have said before, no one is accusing everyone in the industry with having corrupt elections. No one knows how many board elections are being compromised among the tens of thousands conducted every year. Trusted election policies could cut the possibilities to a very small number.

    But, we are saying the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have reported that SOME board elections can be easily corrupted. It seems prudent for industry leaders such as yourself to actively promote trustworthy board elections instead of people like me having to lead the debate for honorable and ethical practices.

    If I were a practicing CAM or community management company executive, I would consider it an important marketing/customer satisfaction goal to implement trustworthy board elections as a competitive feature of my company’s offering. It would be a fabulous differential from competitors.

    Why is that so hard to appreciate?

    Reply
  7. Dave Russell

    I firmly believe, that these issues need to be addressed at the federal level, and not at the state level.

    First, most states lack the legislative authority to pass most of the HOA laws they attempt to jam down. Even when they do pass a law, there are no consequences if the HOA violates them, except for, costly lawsuits filed by the homeowners.

    As more state sponsored HOA laws are being passed, the more we are seeing constitutional challenges to them. State lawmakers have bedded down with the CAI and now the real-estate industry has joined in the conspiracy.

    If you follow Arizona politics, our own elected officials are habitually in hot-water for campagine violations. If you really believe these state “lawmakers” are going to help bring “transparency” to HOA elections, you are dead wrong!

    State HOA laws are hurting more homeowners than they are actually helping homeowners. The CAI has imbedded themselves into every state legislature in the land. Its kind of like sending the local neighborhood thug down to Mafia Headquarters.

    What good does it do if California passes a law that protects homeowners, and Iowa doesn’t have the same set of laws? Most state lawmakers haven’t a clue as to the unlawfulness of homeowners associations.

    What state lawmakers do have knowledge of, is the ginormous contributions made to their political campaigns by the CAI, and now the real-estate industry. The dollar amounts would simply blow your mind!

    I have long stated that we should all be contacting our Congressmen and Congresswomen, asking them for federal HOA legislation.

    If you are expecting state lawmakers to fix the HOA problem, your only fooling yourself. Equal protection for all homeowners, in every sate, can only be accomplished at the federal level.

    Reply

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