Authored by Howard Dakoff and Adam Kahn. This article appears in the July 2020 issue of Condo Lifestyles, www.condolifestyles.net
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused condominium associations to rethink their standard operating practices. From conducting virtual board meetings via videoconference (Zoom or Skype, for example) to reconfiguring common element amenities and updating rules, policies, and protocols for such amenities to help promote social distancing, condominium associations are getting creative to safely get back to “normal” (or as close as possible to our previous definition of “normal”).
Condominium board elections are no exception to this trend. At present, in-person annual meetings where many unit owners gather in a single room and cast their ballots for board elections are no longer advisable and may pose a health risk due to the potential spread of Coronavirus. This does not mean, however, that board elections should be postponed indefinitely, especially since there is no certainty as to when the CDC’s social distancing guidelines will expire. Rules permitting electronic notice and voting can also be adopted per Sections 18.4(s) and 18.8 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act. With a little proactive planning and creativity, elections can safely proceed with minimal disruption. Below are some strategies to safely and conveniently conduct board elections during the Coronavirus pandemic:
- Relying on Proxies to Limit In-Person Gatherings. Proxies permit a unit owner to appoint a proxyholder to cast a ballot on their behalf in person at the meeting. Naming the same default proxyholder reduces the number of persons required to be physically present at the annual meeting to cast ballots since only the proxyholder must show up at the meeting in person to vote on the unit owner’s behalf. Said another way, instead of dozens of unit owners (or more) appearing in person to cast ballots, a single proxyholder can briefly attend the voting portion of the meeting on behalf of those unit owners to register their vote, with the rest of the annual meeting being held via videoconference or teleconference. To accomplish this objective, a designated proxyholder for all proxies would be used (usually an officer of the board) on the directed proxy whereby unit owners designate their preferences for voting for candidates and the proxyholder must honor those candidate choices. Using proxies for board elections is already the standard practice in many condominium associations, but emphasizing the above approach will minimize person-to-person contact at an annual meeting and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding social distancing in order to more safely conduct annual elections.
- Adopt Rules for Mail-In Balloting. Mail-in balloting (i.e., “absentee voting”) allows unit owners to submit their ballots directly without attending the annual meeting. Unlike with proxies where the proxyholder must show up in person to cast a ballot on behalf of unit owners, with an absentee ballot, there is no need for anyone to show up in person to register their vote. The “catch” is that a condominium association must adopt a rule to allow for mail-in balloting at least 120 days before the election, so associations would be wise to proactively consider adopting mail-in balloting rules well in advance of the next election. Note: if a condominium association adopted rules allowing for mail-in balloting, then proxies cannot be used in board elections once the mail-in balloting rules are in effect.
- Implement Procedures for Safe In-Person Voting. In-person voting can still be conducted with adjustments to adhere to CDC guidelines, including social distancing. Strategies for safe in-person voting include extended meetings (more time to cast ballots so less congestion), staggered entry into the meeting room, adding physical markers to indicate an appropriate social distance and, of course, providing hand sanitizer and encouraging attendees to wear appropriate masks or face coverings. Utilizing proxies or mail-in balloting (as permitted) along with modifying in-person voting procedures is recommended to minimize person-to-person contact and avoid large gatherings.
- Conduct the Non-Voting Portion of Annual Meetings Virtually. Like with board meetings, the non-voting portion of annual unit owners meeting should be conducted via videoconference or teleconference. Unit owners can register their vote in advance either by proxy or mail-in ballot, as applicable, or in-person at the meeting (see above) and dial into the meeting from the safety of their own unit. Board elections are essential for the proper operation of condominium associations and help ensure that unit owners have a voice in how their association is run. By thoughtfully adapting election procedures, condominium associations can continue to hold elections safely and with minimal disruption.