A community association or HOA is both a communal living environment and democratic institution, governed by an elected board that has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the association as a whole. The board itself is governed by an association’s covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs), which themselves must adhere to state laws and provisions. There are several layers at play here, but what sets everything in motion is fair and open elections. Unless a community rocks the proverbial vote, lackluster appointments can be made, rational voices can be silenced, and the entire system can begin to crumble.
Thus it’s important for board members, would-be (or could-be) board members, and residents alike to be familiar with the election process, so they can not only participate fully, but also identify if something is amiss.
Always On Time
When it comes to elections, it is crucial for a board to know and act accordingly when specific things need to happen; this timetable or checklist is dictated by both the community association or HOA’s own CC&Rs and by Nevada state law – mainly Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 116.
Among other things, NRS 116 requires that associations stagger their elections for various board positions to prevent the election of an entirely new board each year. For an example, in a scenario where the board generally consists of five members, one year the voters might weigh in on two candidates, and then three the next. That way, new blood is infused into the board without losing the institutional memory that the current board represents.
Prioritizing an open, consistent election timeline is one way to combat resident apathy, which is a constant challenge for boards and community managers alike, according to Brian Molina of Desert Community Management, LLC, in Las Vegas. “I would estimate that with approximately 90 percent of the associations I have managed, we cannot get enough volunteers to run for the board,” he says. “Homeowners in Nevada tend to be anti-homeowners’ association. This results in a minority of volunteers. And with a minority interested in association affairs, it can be construed by the majority of homeowners that elections are rigged, and that board members are hand-picked. As such, a priority in holding elections is to ensure openness and to avoid perception of hand-picking candidates.”
Barbara Holland, CPM and regional manager for FirstService Residential in Nevada agrees, “At any given time, some homeowner may question the board transparency in its election,” she says. “You can’t always get away from that, especially with a homeowner who doesn’t care for the board, or for some of its members. By following the law and providing ample notice for homeowners to participate in the process, an association can demonstrate its commitment to a fair election.”
Know Your Candidates
Of course, knowing when, where and even how to vote are only so useful if you don’t know for whom you’re voting and why. This is why managers and boards have systems in place to disseminate information to their constituents to make sure everyone has a thorough understanding of the candidates and general association goings-on.
Cary Brackett, general manager of Desert Shores Community Association in Las Vegas, delineates his election process, noting that at no point does the community manager ever endorse a particular candidate in any fashion.
“We’re in the process of an election right now, and we’re sending out what we call a board of directors election candidacy form to every homeowner via mail,” he says. The form is meant to ascertain that the recipient is a unit owner of a property in the community, and that their name appears on the deed, or that they’re an officer, employee, agent or director of a corporate owner of a unit, trustee, or beneficiary of a trust that owns a unit, all of this in accordance with NRS 116. You have to fall under one of those classifications in order to run for the board.
Next, the potential candidate must disclose whether they have any potential conflicts of interests – and if so, they must describe those at length. Finally, they have to state that they are a member in good standing, which means that they have no unpaid or past-due assessments, construction penalties, or suchlike.
“At that point, we ask for a brief statement, including experience and qualifications – no longer than a single-typed page, that must not contain any defamatory, libelous or profane information,” Brackett says. “We also ask for a photo, which while not required, certainly makes things look better. At the bottom of the candidacy form, we ask them to sign in order to approve for this information to be published. We take that statement and publish it word-for-word without any changes.”
Brackett’s association also offers a town hall-style, meet-the-candidate night where the candidates publicly make their case for a board position and field questions from the residents.
“Other than that, it’s mostly nuts and bolts up to the actual election,” he says. “If someone wanted to campaign, they certainly could, by all means. Go door-to-door, print flyers. Put up lawn signs – as long as they meet community guidelines. And a candidate can buy ad space in our community newsletter. But we will not provide that for a candidate unless they pay for it.”
Mail the Vote
The final phase of the election is the actual submission and tabulation of the ballots. Given that this marks the explicit determination as to who will actually serve on the board, it must be strictly regimented.
State law dictates that association residents receive a nomination form 90 days before the date of an election. Those forms must be returned within 30 days, and then ballots with all nominees’ statements need be provided to residents in more than 60 days and no less than 50 days prior to the election.
Molina notes that, during this period, at least two or three newsletters should be sent to owners with the candidates’ information and personal statements, so all voters are aware of who’s running, why, and on what platform they propose to lead the community forward.
Ballots are required by NRS 116 to be submitted in secret, i.e., without any information that may identify the voter. They also must be kept inside a double-locked room, which could simply mean a locked file cabinet inside of a locked office.
The actual counting of the ballots can be performed by volunteers from within the community or by a CPA. But the latter will cost money, and should be left to the discretion of the association. If there have been problems in previous elections, it may well be worth it to bring in outside assistance to make sure the process is on the up-and-up, and to assure residents that their vote and voice count in the election process.
Brackett notes that he’s had attorneys at election meetings, but it’s not a regular occurrence. “If we suspect that there could be a problem, then we’ll bring [an attorney] in,” he says. “But even we don’t touch the ballots. We provide voters with an envelope that has no identifying properties on the outside, and they mail them in. They cannot be opened until the night of the annual meeting. And we have volunteers in the community come in and do the vote tabulation, meaning that they open envelopes, count the votes and present the results. And it’s a real process. I’m working in a fairly large community, so we could be looking at 1,500 to 2,000 ballots. Opening those in an official, dutiful fashion requires a team of people.”
Which circles back around to the problem of apathy and a lack of participation. It’s obviously hard to have an expansive, functional system if few want to take part in it.
“The question of encouraging voter turnout is one for which Nevada and its various counties and municipalities would love to have an answer,” says Holland. “As a state, our voter turnout could be substantially better. Homeowners simply have a passive attitude when it comes to voting for their directors. We see increased turnout when homeowners are dissatisfied, or when a homeowner or group thereof starts knocking on doors or sending flyers in an attempt to energize members. I don’t have any other magic solution to increase voting, no matter how much we publicize casting your ballots.”
Mike Odenthal is a staff writer/reporter for The Nevada Cooperator.