Equal Voting Rights? You’re Kidding, Of Course!

guest blog by Deborah Goonan

What would you say if I told you that your neighbor voted for the Mayor of your city seven times in the last election? And what if you learned in the news that the owner of the apartment high rise downtown got 240 votes at the polls? What if your neighbor, going through hard times and behind on his property taxes, was turned away at the polls and denied his right to vote? Suppose there was a controversial referendum on the ballot, and lots of wealthy property owners got to cast one vote for each property they owned?

Chances are you would be indignant, as you should be.

But this is exactly the process used to elect your HOA Board of Directors  – that is, when there actually is an election – and how changes are made to your HOA CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions), all those rules you must follow, or else.

Although your HOA may seem like local government, with the power to enforce penalties for various violations large and small, the fact is that your HOA is a legal corporation and not officially a government.

Therefore, the corporate voting model is used. Each property owned represents one share of the HOA, and gives the right to one vote. Unless, of course, you happen to be the Developer, in which case you have weighted votes – anywhere from three to nine votes per lot owned – during the time of construction and sale of homes. (Not that it matters for elections, because during Developer control, the Board is appointed, not elected. But it still matters for amendments to the CC&Rs.)

It doesn’t matter how many people live in your house, you still get only one vote, as long as you’re the owner. If you’re a tenant, you probably don’t get to vote at all, unless the HOA allows the owner to allocate his or her vote to a tenant.

What about that real estate investor, a friend of the Board President who just purchased 40 homes or condos in your HOA? She gets 40 votes, one for each property. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t actually live in the community, that she’s an absentee landlord who doesn’t even manage her properties or monitor her tenants (other than to collect rent). She still gets 40 votes to your measly one vote.

As for your next-door neighbor who’s behind on her assessments due to unforeseen medical bills, and the neighbor down the street who hasn’t paid a fine for that stubborn brown spot in his lawn: their votes are not counted! Never mind that the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1964, with the ratification of the 24th amendment, because corporations do not necessarily have to guarantee shareholders Constitutional protections.

How might this lopsided allocation of voting rights affect your next Board election? Now imagine what will happen when the Board wants to relax rental restrictions. Who has more votes in your HOA – the full-time owner-residents or the bulk buying landlord-investors?

Contrast this to the more democratic process in conventional American communities, where each citizen who is registered to vote gets but ONE vote, regardless of income level, tax delinquency status, or number of properties owned.

The corporate allocation of voting rights practically guarantees inequity in HOAs.

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About

Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

4 thoughts on “Equal Voting Rights? You’re Kidding, Of Course!

  1. Nila Ridings

    Excellent analogy, Deborah!

    This should make many people pause and think how insane HOAs are. The aspect not mentioned is in many cases the HOA board is handling the elections and counting the votes.

    Candidates do not count the votes in a city, county, state, or federal election. And they don’t work at the election polls either! Can you imagine the outrage if they did? Yet, when it comes to the HOA elections homeowners could care less in most cases.

    Fortunately, thanks to the Kansas Uniform Common Interest Owners Bill of Rights Act homeowners can vote in the HOA board member elections regardless of whether they are current on their dues or not.

    Reply
  2. Dave Russell

    Thank you, Deborah. Indeed this issue needs to be addressed. Now, here in Arizona, the State Legislature just passed one dilly of a bill SB 1482. Keep in mind the CAI was one of the “stakeholders.” The new law allows HOA voting by “email and fax.” What the bill doesn’t address is, how those fax and email votes are verified. I’m assuming, the way the new law is written, I can make up 40 email addresses, or send 40 faxes and sway an election. By the way, they billed this as some “homeowner protection bill.” Uh, NO

    Reply
  3. Deborah Goonan

    Great points, Nila. A few states prohibit removal of voting rights for owners in HOAs. Other states such as California have mandated secret ballot voting. In Florida, secret ballot voting is required for Condos, but not for HOAs in planned Developments.

    But there are no end-to-end national standards for voting and election procedures. The HOA Board has the power to amend ByLaws, tweaking procedures to their advantage, often getting around statutory requirements. That will be the subject of a follow-up blog.

    Reply
  4. Kay

    For information on massive alleged board election misconduct and possible administrative and criminal violations in prior Sun City Anthem, Henderson, NV board elections see the following link.

    http://blog.anthemvoice.org/2013/02/05/what-has-sun-city-hoa-done-about-past-election-violations/

    There is no way to establish an audit trail of the election process and there is good reason to doubt the trustworthiness of any board election that refuses to allow an end-to-end audit of claimed secret ballots.

    Reply

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