Election season typically starts around Labor Day, when we start to be bombarded with reminders to cast our ballots to choose who we want to be in charge of our city, town, state and country. It ends on Election Day in November, when the voting is completed, the tallying is done and a winner is announced. In a co-op and condo association, a similar type of annual election process takes place—an election to choose a board of directors that will work with the building’s manager to make sure the community’s finances, physical maintenance and other day-to-day business remains solvent and sound.
When it comes to actually running the elections, however, 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, remembers one extremely heated election she monitored where physical fighting even broke out. “It was bad,” she says.
Sometimes it's not a problem of ballot-counting, but of 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. Tierman explains that if a board hasn’t held an election within one month after the date in the bylaws or 13 months after the last election, or if the board doesn’t call for an election within two weeks and conduct one within two months, shareholders can demand one by petition. “The shareholders must have an aggregate of at least 10 percent of the co-op's stock and the co-op is obligated to conduct it between 60 and 90 days later,” he says. “For condos, the law requires at least one-third of the board be up for election each year.”