In May of 1966, comedian Jack Parr said on his television show, “I don’t vote for politicians. It only encourages them.” By 1976, the sentiment was so popular it was regularly seen on bumper stickers all across America. While undoubtedly humorous, that same sentiment can have dire consequences in your community association. Lack of involvement and indifference towards association leadership are not signs of a healthy community. In fact, I would suggest to you that the fewer association members that vote, either in person or by proxy, the more concerned you should be as a community leader.
Voting rights are inherent to condominium ownership. When condominium owners decide not to vote, an association can find itself paralyzed. In situations that require a supermajority or very high per centage of unit owners to vote, apathy and lack of voters can completely stymie an association’s efforts to pass new rules that may be required for purchasing new property, adding or removing common elements, or securing financing for capital improvement projects.
How do you make people exercise their right to vote?
Technically, you can’t make unit owners exercise their right to vote. Not voting is, in itself, an exercise of the right to vote. What you can do is make the voting process as simple and painless as possible.
Look at how many votes are eligible to be cast by your association members. Generally speaking, one vote per unit is normal. So if you have 100 units in your association, there are 100 votes to be cast. Look at your most recent votes. Were any of them for the full amount of votes that could have been cast? Look at how many votes were not cast and think about how best to involve the non-voters.
Why aren’t people voting?
The answer may not be as simple as you think. It is easy to dismiss the electorate as uncaring or apathetic but the truth may lie a bit deeper.
Comfort with the status quo is often a reason people say they don’t vote. If the community is performing well – bills paid on time, common fees steady, no special assessments on the horizon – unit owners may simply be content and not feel the need to change. The lack of real issues may keep the electorate at bay.
Frustration can also be a factor. If a unit owner is in a minority, the unit owner may feel as if their vote carries little or no weight. If they feel their vote doesn’t matter, they may simply choose not to cast it.
Ignorance of their right to vote can also play a factor. Even communities experiencing a low turnover rate of 10% per year have new unit owners every year, some of whom may not even know about their voting rights. They may not vote because they don’t know that they should.
Scheduling conflicts can also create missed voting opportunities. More and more people are working second and third jobs making it difficult to attend a meeting where they can cast their vote.
Fixing the Vote (in a good way, that is!)
Take a look at the rules for voting and voting by proxy in your community. Also, look at your state’s rules on voting by proxy as well to make sure you aren’t creating a situation where one person is casting too many votes. Use your community newsletter or HOA newsletter to tell the story of how important voting is within your community association. Tell the story of how easy it is to vote by proxy for those unit owners who cannot attend meetings where votes are cast. Be sure to make it simple and easy to understand. Include a sample proxy ballot in your condominium newsletter or HOA newsletter and be sure to give simple instructions for how to cast a vote by proxy.
If the only time unit owners show up in mass to vote is when there is a problem facing the association, you can be assured that the meeting and vote will not go well. Angry voters create volatile communities and a toxic environment for harmonious living.
Encourage your unit owners to vote. Always strive for 100% of the electorate to be represented. If you make it simple and easy to understand, you will be rewarded with greater voter turnout and higher support for the decisions that are made that will affect all unit owners.
Bob Gourley is a condo and HOA industry veteran. He founded MyEZCondo in 2004 and produces the Ask Mister Condo website. He is also a partner in Association Life and HOALendingXchange. He is an active member of CAI and served as Chapter President for the Connecticut Chapter from 2010 – 2011.