Kathryn Farrell in Board Operations
Enter electronic voting. Offered by companies such as Honest Ballot Association and ElectionsOnline, online or electronic voting allows shareholders the opportunity to vote in board elections even if they’re not currently in the building. Or the country.
Both systems are growing in popularity in larger buildings, particularly those that already use an outside service to organize and manage their elections, according to Dean M. Roberts, an attorney with the firm of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus. It’s also an excellent way for boards that have difficulty reaching a quorum to do so.
“It’s really very convenient,” says attorney James Glatthaar, a partner at Bleakley Platt & Schmidt. The Surrey Strathmore co-op in White Plains, which he represents, has used online voting to elect board members for many years. Glatthaar reports that it has “worked well.”
It’s a simple enough process, no matter which company you choose, and it’s made even simpler by virtue of choice. Each company generally allows boards to choose the level of service they want to employ. On the high end, shareholders can receive emailed notifications a week before the meeting, electronic proxies, and more. Buildings on a budget can opt for a simpler package, such as a login code for the board to include in its physical mailings that allows shareholders to vote online. The cost for these services can vary widely, depending on the number of voters in a given building.
Linda Gibbs, president of Honest Ballot Association, an election resource company, points out one of electronic voting’s main benefits: “It gives [boards] a chance to get a quorum. People not onsite will have the opportunity to vote wherever they are,” allowing boards to successfully hold elections even if a majority of shareholders are not physically present. Additionally, “we can have [the ballots] in different languages, candidates can have bios and photos, [and shareholders] can get a receipt after you vote, a confirmation that you voted.”
And yet, few boards take advantage of the technology. Ellen Kornfeld, vice president at the management firm The Lovett Group, says that virtually none of her boards vote electronically. It’s considered “only when there are contentious elections,” Kornfeld says. Both electronic voting companies confirm that once a person has voted, that vote cannot be changed. When a person votes online, that vote voids a physical proxy.
“I think you do it when there's an issue, when you want to make sure you're aboveboard,” she continues. “If you have no one running against a slate, there's no point.”
So why isn’t online voting – which has been proven to be secure and easy – catching on?
Honest Ballot’s Gibbs doesn’t think technology is to blame. “The excuse [boards use] is that they have an older generation and they don’t want change,” she says. “Don’t they go online to see their grandchildren? They’re nervous. But [boards that actually use it] are loving it.”
And Roberts, the attorney, is optimistic: “If you ask me in three years [how many buildings are using it], I’ll have different answers, because more buildings are starting to create an online presence and become comfortable with being online.”
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