Over the past few weeks, the Miami Herald and Univision have teamed up to investigate allegations of fraudulent condominium elections, primarily in Miami-Dade County. In fact, Miami-Dade County by far has the highest number of complaints of any county in Florida for voter fraud, according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, accounting for 566 of the 1908 complaints filed. One condominium in Miami was found to have had a record turnout where 115% of the owners participated in the election!
Not coincidentally, the State Legislature saw it appropriate last year to pass laws to protect against voter fraud and to facilitate voting in condominiums by enacting online voting provisions.
Electronic voting for Condominiums, Cooperatives and Homeowners’ Associations is now allowed, including for the most controversial of all votes – elections. Associations may conduct elections and other unit owner votes through an internet-based online voting system if the unit owner consents, in writing, to online voting and if association adheres to certain requirements. These include providing a method to authenticate the unit owner’s identity to the online voting system, a method to transmit an electronic ballot to the on- line voting system that ensures the secrecy and integrity of each ballot and a method to confirm at least 14 days before the voting deadline, that the unit owner’s electronic device can successfully communicate with the online voting system.
Online voting might sound mundane, but it is the most exciting reform to hit Florida’s 60,000 community associations in a long time. It will open the door to unit owners who have been disenfranchised in the past by not being able to vote in an easy and timely fashion.
In Miami especially with so many owners living abroad, think of all the postage, manpower effort and sheer hassle that will be saved by allowing these foreign owners to vote with a mere click on their computer. For condominium elections, the Association avoids having to copy paper ballots and send them overseas and the owner having to sign the secret bal- lot, place it within two envelopes and mail it back via U.S. Mail or Federal Express in the hopes it will arrive before the election.
Just the convenience factor alone is noteworthy, but add to that the benefit of curbing voter fraud by online voting. Certainly, it will no longer be possible to forge signatures, stuff a ballot box or remove ballots if a vote is conducted electronically. The use of unique PIN numbers sent to email addresses provided by the owners and a registration process will help ensure that each eligible voter is casting his own vote online.
An Association that wants to implement electronic voting should begin the process by finding a company that has an electronic voting program that meets the requirements of the statute, and adopting a board resolution authorizing electronic voting. The board resolution should specify the procedure for obtaining owner consent for electronic voting. To serve this need, my law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, is pleased to recently have become the only law firm in Florida to provide secure, online voting software for community associations, called BPBALLOT. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, there will be such voting software in different languages to really allow our diverse South Florida population to cast their votes and have a voice in the governance of their communities.
Goodbye smoke signals and carrier pigeons and hello, technology!
Rosa de la Camara is shareholder with the law firm Becker & Poliakoff where she has worked for 27 years concentrating her practice on representing community associations and addressing complex issues involving Boards, unit owners, managers and state and local policymakers. She is widely recognized for her well-honed skills and serves as General Counsel to many boards, including BHA.