Homeowners associations are led by a set of board members who are elected into office. When it comes to elections, members typically have a few options, one of them being an HOA secret ballot.

A secret ballot is exactly what it sounds like. When voting in HOA elections, members cast their votes by submitting a ballot. A secret ballot is simply a vote or ballot that does not have any identifier. That means details such as the voter’s name, address, lot number, or contact information are left off the ballot. The entire point of using an HOA secret ballot is to maintain anonymity for the voter.

While secret ballots are more often used in board elections, they are not limited to that. Many homeowners associations also use them to vote for other things, such as amending governing documents and approving certain projects.

Some might wonder why there is even a need to use secret ballots in an HOA community. If the results are all the same, then why go the extra mile to protect the identity of the voter?

There are a couple of arguments that support the use of secret ballots or anonymous votes.

Removing the identity of the voter from the ballot can make them feel more at ease. Voters are not compelled to make certain choices in order to maintain their image.

By hiding their identity, voters can feel more comfortable voting for the person they actually want to vote for or the issue that they feel more strongly about. It also eliminates possible peer pressure as well as the use of tactics such as intimidation and threats.

The HOA secret ballot method is arguably more secure than the traditional ballot method. When properly executed, secret voting ensures a fair election. It can also help the association avoid claims of fraudulent or biased elections.

There are two areas to look at when it comes to determining whether secret ballots are mandatory in your HOA.

First, you should refer to your state laws. In some states, the law specifically requires that associations adopt secret voting methods when it comes to HOA elections. In others, there are certain conditions that would trigger secret ballots.

For instance, California Civil Code § 5100 demands the use of secret ballots for the following actions:

-Electing board members
-Removing board members
-Increasing regular dues by over 20%
-Levying special assessments over 5% of the budgeted gross expenses (with some exceptions)
-Amending the governing documents (with some exceptions)
-Granting of exclusive use common areas

The second place to look is your governing documents. Your bylaws and CC&Rs should be able to tell you when secret ballots must come into play. The same documents should also contain the requirements and procedures related to the use of secret ballots.

Sometimes, neither your state laws nor governing documents will say anything about secret ballots. In that case, if you wish to adopt secret ballot voting, it is best to amend your governing documents to include a provision allowing its use.

Apart from state laws or your governing documents requiring it, there are other reasons to adopt the use of secret ballots. Certain situations may call for it. Here are some examples where your HOA may need to use secret ballots.

secret ballot tabulationChallenging Board Positions. A lot of communities are having trouble recruiting owners to join the HOA board. As such, it is uncommon for an HOA to have more candidates than available seats on the board. When such a situation does arise, though, secret ballots are usually the better option. This is so that no person can claim that members felt obliged to vote for their neighbor rather than another candidate. Again, it circles back to eliminating pressure and making voters feel more comfortable about their choices.

When the Board Decides. Another situation is when the board decides that it is necessary to vote in secret. In accordance with the governing documents, if the board feels that a certain issue calls for secret ballots, then it shall be used. A board might feel this way when voting on controversial topics, as the secrecy can give voters added confidence in their votes.

When Residents Request It. Normally, state laws or governing documents give residents the ability to demand the use of secret ballots. While the specific requirements can vary, such a request must usually be made by 20% of the membership.

Traditional ballots are easy — voters fill them out and either drop them off or mail them to the right place. With traditional ballots, there is no need to worry about hiding the identities of voters. But, with secret ballots, the HOA must exert additional effort to ensure that votes remain anonymous.

Generally, the process of an HOA secret ballot involves the following steps:

The association mails the ballots to all members, along with two pre-addressed envelopes and instructions on how members can return the ballots. This step must take place ahead of time — usually at least 30 days before the deadline to submit votes.

Members fill out their ballots but leave identifiers such as names, addresses, lot numbers, and contact details blank.

Members place their properly filled-out ballots in the first sealed envelope. They then insert this first envelope into the second one. The second envelope must indicate the name, signature, and address of the voter in the upper left-hand corner. However, this information remains confidential upon the counting of the votes.

Members should then mail the envelope to a neutral third party. Alternatively, a committee of volunteers can receive the envelopes. If going with the latter, the committee must not include any current board members, candidates running for the board, or managers.

The neutral third party or committee of volunteers will then proceed with secret ballot tabulation.

The final step is to announce the results of the vote at the next meeting. When announcing the results, all identifiers must remain secret as well. There must be no mention of names, addresses, lot numbers, or contact information, as doing otherwise would defeat the purpose of the HOA secret ballot method.

The HOA secret ballot can be a powerful and helpful tool in ensuring fair and free elections. Because there are certain complexities involved, it is important to familiarize yourself with state laws and your community’s own provisions regarding secret ballots.

Running an entire community, especially a large one, can come as a challenge. If your HOA board needs help, contact a reputable management company in your area. Browse our online directory to narrow down your search!

Written by | Shared from HOA Management

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