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Elections are so essential to representative democratic government that the Department of Homeland Security has defined election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure,” as fundamental as roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure.
Every spring, many Homeowners Associations (HOAs), including condominiums, particularly those with December 31st fiscal year ends, are required to hold their annual meetings and elections – about which the Department of Commerce and Consumption states, “the owners’ most important role is to elect directors,” even more important than paying association fees or following association rules.
While some owners attend these association annual meetings and vote in person, many use proxy forms that appoint someone else to vote for them, creating the false impression that these owners are represented. False because the proxy forms provided by property management companies that facilitate most association elections are “general proxies” that allow the proxy to vote as they wish.
Experience has shown that these proxies can be assigned even further, by the proxy to another proxy, without the knowledge of the owner, creating an even greater distance between the voting owner and the one casting that owner’s vote. .
Despite this knowledge, property management companies and association attorneys testify to lawmakers that the use of proxies provides landlords with “free choice.” Demonstrating their preference for disengaged and absentee landlords because this arrangement makes their relationship with directors less accountable and more “efficient,” property management companies and association lawyers advocate the use of proxies to elect directors.
But states with much larger numbers of homeowners associations, such as Florida, California, and Texas, prohibit the use of proxy voting due to the potential for voter fraud and mandatory voting for the election of directors. .
Indeed, the property owners’ scrutiny of our associations’ election records revealed “irregular” election processes that occurred primarily at the level of the election facilitator, usually the property management company, as they organize most of the elections. associations despite their pecuniary interest in the results of the elections. Whether intentional, caused by human error, or purely coincidental, almost every “irregularity” at every stage of the electoral process has proven to favor the re-election of incumbent directors.
Once elected, directors have considerable latitude and power to manage the affairs of the association, having the power to enter into contracts, expend association funds, adopt and enforce rules and discipline owners and residents. The legal and financial implications of these elections have dreadful consequences; thus, everything depends on the integrity of the electoral process.
Lawmakers who permit and encourage condominiums and HOA housing development should recognize that current association election laws promote the disenfranchisement and disenfranchisement of homeowners and enable fraud.
During the current legislative session, Senate Bill 2852, SD1 and House Bill 2272, HD1 are small steps toward modernizing the election rules for condominiums and homeowners associations and deserve be supported, while the intent of the now postponed measure HB 1651 was to eliminate corruption made possible by proxy. vote.
More is requested.
In 2020, the Hawaii Office of Elections reported that on record general election turnout, 95% of votes were cast by mail-in ballot. Using this model and that of Florida, California, and Texas, lawmakers should reform condominium and HOA laws to require owners to vote for board members by mail if they cannot vote by mail. person, thus avoiding the need for proxies.
In addition, legislators should discourage the facilitation of association elections by biased parties with a stake in the outcome and should encourage the use of neutral professional third parties to oversee the electoral process to assure owners of the integrity of the election. election and that the results are fair.
For one-third of Hawaii residents, their associations are important, so the truly representative nature of these associations should be a primary policy goal of all legislators.
Lila Mower leads a coalition of more than 300 members of condo owners and HOAs, Hui Oiaio (formerly, Condo Owners Coalition of Hawaii).