When it comes to running board elections in a condo or co-op community, the biggest concern among those involved is making sure the elections are fair and balanced and nobody has a reason to cry foul. Elections can be heated as it is, so the voting process should run smoothly and without any hiccups.
Linda Chiarelli-Gibbs, president of Honest Ballot Association in Floral Park, New York, remembers one extremely heated election she monitored where physical fighting actually broke out. “It was bad,” she wryly recalls.
One of the most frequent dilemmas communities face is actually getting anybody on to the ballot in the first place. “Robert Tierman, a partner with Litwin & Tierman, P.A., with offices in New York and New Jersey, remembers one co-op that had a problem of getting shareholders who actually wanted to run for a position on the board of directors. “This led to there not being an election; whoever wanted the position just got it,” he says. “The board was not fully constituted and there was a vacancy for a whole year. No major issues resulted from the situation but the board was less efficient and effective.”
So is the term ‘fair election’ an oxymoron? Although unfair elections—where there have been broken voting machines or improper ballot counting—make front page news, the truth is that it’s not common for elections to be unfair, at least technically speaking. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to have a fair election for a co-op or condo board if these few basic guidelines are followed.
Follow the Bylaws
Check the bylaws to find out how often your elections should be held, and when. Typically, elections are held annually and owners must be given notice of when they are eligible for nomination and the date of the actual election. “New York law requires that an election be held each year,” says Aaron Shmulewitz, partner at Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman LLP in Manhattan. He adds that the majority of buildings have all seats up simultaneously but a small minority have implemented staggered terms in which only some seats are up each year. “A staggered term system is viewed as maintaining continuity and “institutional memory”—it prevents the entire board from being swept out at one time. Creating a staggered term system would require a vote of apartment owners, whether in a co-op or a condo,” he explains.