Voting in a Virtual World

11 Mar 2021

If you are like most Americans at this moment, voting is at the top of your mind. While most local governments have not instituted electronic or online voting for governmental elections, Florida law does allow community associations, specifically including condominiums and homeowners associations, to conduct their elections for Board members by way of electronic means. However, in much the same way as we are seeing on a governmental level, moving from voting by an in-person or paper ballot system, even for associations, brings its own host of challenges.

As alluded to above, Florida law, specifically, Florida Statutes 718.128, 719.129, and 720.317 allows associations to engage in voting by electronic means, including an online system.  Among the requirements for an association to institute online voting are for the system to be able to: authenticate the member’s identity, authenticate the validity of each electronic vote to ensure that the vote is not altered in transit, transmit a receipt from the online voting system to each member who casts an electronic vote, permanently separate any authentication or identifying information from the electronic election ballot (keeping it secret), and store and keep electronic ballots accessible to election officials for recount, inspection, and review purposes. Such can be enacted, by statute, by vote of the Board of Directors at a properly noticed Board meeting.

However, the current Florida Statutes require for each owner to specifically agree to participate in online/electronic voting. Therefore, unless your community can receive 100% approval of the members for online/electronic voting, your Association would need to conduct not only the in-person or paper balloting system in place within the Association’s governing documents and/or Florida Statutes for those not consenting, but the electronic or online voting as adopted per the statutes written above. As such, for most communities, the effort and expense involved in conducting the election will not decrease, but may in fact, increase. Even in light of COVID-19, there is no change to this statute. Moreover, while the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) allowed associations to use some emergency powers (including regarding elections meetings) back in March, the state rescinded those powers effective June 1. From the state’s official perspective with regard to association elections, business is as usual.

As seems to be the case with most elections nowadays, there is no simple solution. While electronic voting may be a solution for some of the problems in some communities, for most communities, especially those of small or medium size, electronic voting is no panacea.