As you hopefully know by now, as of July 1, 2006, the way all California community associations conduct elections and membership votes was changed. Among the major changes is the requirement that all elections and certain other membership votes be held by secret ballot pursuant to operating rules. This includes votes for the selection and removal of members of the board, amendments to the governing documents, votes regarding assessments, and the grant of exclusive use common area. In addition, the role of the inspectors of election has grown significantly, and the use of proxies, while still permitted, may not be as prevalent as in the past. This new law affects all community associations, irrespective of their size. Failure to comply with the new law could subject an association to a challenge in small claims court. Because this new law is so complex, we are receiving a lot of questions. In response, we present the following frequently asked questions:
1. Our Association has always had secret ballots; can’t we just keep on holding our annual elections as we have been doing for years?
The simple answer is no. The new election law was adopted because Senator Battin from the Coachella Valley somehow came to believe that fraud was rampant within association elections. This was news to us. If an association does not comply with the new law, which includes, among other things, the adoption of election rules and procedures, which specify procedures for voting by secret ballot, designating and detailing the responsibilities of the inspector(s) of election, the voting results can be challenged and a fine imposed on the association. We do not believe that the new election law is required as we certainly do not see rampant fraud at associations, but it is the law and if you do not fully comply, there are potential serious consequences.
2. What is required for the election rules and procedures – do they need to be approved by the members?
New Civil Code Section 1363.03 provides that the new election rules and procedures must provide, among other things, that the association allow for equal access for all candidates or members to advocate their point of view in all association media (via newsletter, websites, etc.); that the association provide access to common area meeting space at no cost to all candidates and members who advocate a point of view during a campaign; set forth the qualifications of candidates for the board; set procedures for the nomination of candidates; set qualifications for voting; establish a method for selecting the inpector(s) of election and who can serve as an inspector of election. This new law specifically provides that these rules must be treated like other “operating” rules and sent out to the members for their comment thirty (30) days before being adopted by the board of directors. However, regardless of member comment, it is the board’s decision whether to adopt the rules; the members do not vote on them.
3. What happens if we don’t have election rules and procedures?
The failure to adopt election rules and procedures means that actual results of the voting can be contested in small claims court.
4. Do these voting rules and procedures only apply to the election of board members or to voting on other matters as well?
The new law provides a list of different votes that are taken by the members in accordance with the election rules – the election or removal of the board members, voting regarding assessments, amendment of the governing documents, and the grant of exclusive use common area.
5. We are a small association of only 10 units. My board does not want to have to make rules or follow the new law regarding secret ballots. Can a majority of the homeowners decide that we don’t want to follow this new law?
Unfortunately, Senator Battin (and the California legislature) did not believe that there was any need to differentiate between larger and smaller associations; all community associations subject to the Davis-Stirling Act must follow the new election law. Any homeowner that wants to challenge the results of an election may do so by going to small claims court, and a small claims judge not only has the power to invalidate the election results, but also has the power to impose a fine of up to $500 per violation. Although there may not be any homeowners today that even know about these new election laws, it only takes one disgruntled homeowner to file a small claims action involving the results of your election. This does not even take into consideration the question that if the results of the election are invalidated, is there a board of directors in place to make decisions, sign checks, etc.?
6. What exactly has to be provided in the upper left hand corner of the outer secret ballot envelope?
The following must appear in the upper-left hand corner of the outer secret ballot envelope:
• Written or pre-printed voter’s name • Written or pre-printed voter’s address or separate interest identifier that entitles him or her to vote (such as parcel, unit or lot number – can simply be the voter’s full address)
• Voter’s signature
7. What if a homeowner doesn’t know their parcel or lot number?
By recent amendments to Civil Code Section 1363.03 (effective 7/1/06), it is no longer necessary that an owner place their parcel or lot number as long as the voter can be identified from the information provided (address and unit number may be sufficient).
8. Does everyone need to fill out a candidacy notice, including existing Board members who are running for reelection?
Some election rules provide for candidacy notices to be sent out to the membership, and the answer would depend on how your election rules are drafted since the code does not address candidacy notices. Candidacy notices are just one way to provide equal access for those persons running for election. It is a good idea to provide in your election rules that all candidates, regardless of whether they are running for reelection, must fill out a candidacy notice.
9. Should the inner envelope say only “SECRET BALLOT” or does it also need to include an address?
The inner envelope should say no more than: “Secret Ballot, to be opened by the Inspector of Election only.” It should not be marked with any identifying information by anyone.
10. Do we need to send homeowners a proxy? How do we let homeowners know that they can give a proxy to someone and what needs to be on it?
If the governing documents don’t require the Association to send a proxy, you are not obligated to do so. The requirements for proxies are set forth in the Corporations Code and should be addressed in the election rules. The Inspector(s) of Election validates proxies. All proxies must be exchanged for Secret Ballots because the proxy itself can’t be voted.
11. Is it 1 Inspector under 100 units and 3 for 100 + units?
No, it’s one or three at the Board’s discretion. If the Board fails to designate the Inspector(s), the members may vote on the appointment.
12. What if five members are up for election, all five want to run again and no candidacy notices are received by the deadline? What is the use of having nominations from the floor if a member can’t change their vote once it has been mailed?
Recently amended Civil Code Section 1363.03 makes clear that nominations may be allowed from the floor if provided for in the rules and not prohibited by the governing documents. This helps in cases where nominations are not received in advance of the meeting. A member may wish to refrain from voting until the meeting itself in order to ensure the member knows all of the choices available. The member shouldn’t mail their ballot unless they are sure of their vote. Another option is to write in a candidate that is not yet nominated, mail the ballot, and then nominate that candidate from the floor at the meeting. It is obviously an advantage for a candidate to return the candidacy notice within the time provided so that candidate is on the ballot. Also, elections by acclamation are no longer allowed (a vote must still be taken where the number of candidates is equal to the number of open board positions).
13. Do only members not planning on attending the meeting need to mail in their secret ballots? The members attending can bring them in but they must be in the 2 sealed envelopes…correct?
Yes. But mailing in your ballot does not mean you cannot attend the meeting. Members can complete their secret ballots and seal them at the meeting. We recommend the board, manager or Inspector(s) bring extra blank secret ballots and envelopes to the meeting in case someone lost their voting materials, etc. and needs a replacement.
14. What if quorum is not achieved?
Remember that even secret ballots received by mail count as members present at the meeting for quorum purposes, so be sure to count them towards quorum. Also, the Inspector(s) should not open any envelopes until quorum is satisfied (if quorum is not satisfied, move to adjourn the meeting and check to see if your governing documents have a provision for reduced quorum at an adjourned meeting).
We encourage all associations to comply with the new law. If you would like more information, there are additional articles on this blog and our website, or you may e-mail our office and we will be glad to forward you additional documents.