Yea or Nay to Electronic Voting
Question: Q: Is it permissible to have owners vote electronically or must they be physically present at a meeting in order to cast official votes?
Answer: A: The answer depends in part on what state laws allow or prohibit and what your association’s documents say or don’t say. Most documents were written before the communications technologies that we take for granted today existed. Although at least 20 states have amended their condominium laws to permit electronic voting, New England states are not among them. Association attorneys generally suggest that if you want owners to vote electronically, you should have them approve a bylaw amendment providing that authority.
Electronic voting has several advantages, primary among them, convenience. Attracting a quorum is a chronic problem for community associations. Owners who don’t attend the annual meeting and don’t vote in association elections might vote electronically if they had that option. But there are some concerns, security primary among them.
“You must have some means of verifying that the people casting votes have the authority to do so,” Clive Martin, counsel in the Boston office of Robinson & Cole LLP, points out. “For that reason, among others, he prefers proxies, which offer the convenience of electronic voting without the security concerns. “People aren’t disenfranchised- they have their voices heard,” he says. “But this stays within the framework of well understood and established legal conventions.”
Sandy Moskowitz, shareholder in the Boston law firm Davis, Malm & D’Agostine, P.C, sees strong arguments for and against electronic voting. “If it allows associations to deal with the quorum issue, it can be very helpful,” he agrees. On the other hand, he notes, electronic voting creates a disincentive for owners to attend the annual meeting – one of the few occasions in many communities when owners meet and mingle and, equally important, Moskowitz believes, have an opportunity to hear presentations from candidates for board positions before voting on them. “If you think there are communal benefits” to having owners attend meetings, he says, electronic voting clearly pushes in the opposite direction. “I don’t know if this makes electronic voting intrinsically good or bad.”
It probably makes electronic voting, like most technologies, something of a double-edged sword, requiring board members to assess the positives and the negatives for their communities.