Thanks to the Florida Legislature, community associations can now make use of technology to increase convenience and decrease costs and time required to conduct member votes. The homeowners’, condominium, and cooperative acts were all amended, effective July 1, 2015, to allow associations to conduct owner votes, including elections, using an internet-based online voting system if certain criteria are met. The Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes adopted rules to provide further guidance for electronic voting for condominiums and cooperatives, which were effective on March 20, 2016.
Where to Begin
In order to conduct votes using an online system, the Board of Directors must first adopt a resolution that will require all owners with notice of the opportunity to vote through the online voting system. For condominiums, the notice of opportunity to vote electronically must be included in the notice of the meeting. The Board must establish reasonable procedures and deadlines for owners to consent in writing to vote electronically and to opt out of electronic voting after giving consent. An owner’s consent is valid until he or she opts out.
How to Prepare
The relevant statutes and rules provide detailed requirements that the system the Board selects to conduct the online voting must meet. For example, the system must have a method to confirm at least 14 days before the voting deadline that the owner’s electronic device can successfully communicate with the online voting system. Accordingly, Boards will need to consider in some cases sending notices out further in advance that what is normally required. Boards must carefully vet any proposed online systems to make sure the technical requirements are met before implementing the system.
When using an electronic voting system which meets the requirements, here are a few important points:
- Owners voting electronically are counted as being in attendance for purposes of determining a quorum.
- When a quorum is established based on owners voting electronically, a substantive vote may not be taken at the meeting on issues other than the issues specifically identified in the electronic vote.
- For condominium associations, the polls are closed upon commencement of opening of the outer envelopes of mailed ballots or the accessing of electronic votes, whichever occurs first.
- The owner’s consent in writing may be by email and such email address is not an official record unless the owner previously consented to receive electronic notices using that email address.
- The online voting system must store votes accessible to election officials for recount, inspection and review purposes (for condominiums for 1 year, and for homeowners’ associations for 7 years).
- For condominiums, the online voting system must produce an official record that the association must maintain which identifies the specific votes cast on each ballot and the date and time of receipt of the electronically submitted ballot.
- The system must be able to authenticate the owner’s identity but permanently separate identification information from the electronic ballot for condominium elections or votes that require secret ballots.
These new laws certainly seem to give associations the ability to promote participation in votes and elections by offering ease and convenience to the members.
Proceed with Caution
Associations should be careful that the procedures and online system being used meet the statutory and administrative criteria. For specifics, condominium associations should refer to section 718.128, Florida Statutes, and to Rules 61B-23.0021 and 61B-23.00211, Florida Administrative Code. Homeowners’ associations should refer to Section 720.317, Florida Statutes. Cooperative associations should refer to Section 719.129, Florida Statutes, and Rule 61B-75.0050, Florida Administrative Code. You may also find this blog post on electronic voting helpful.