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 or a 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 enough as it is, so the voting process should run smoothly and without any hiccups. Linda 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 the problem is that members of the board do not want to give up their power, says Adam Leitman Bailey, Esq., a Manhattan-based real estate attorney with his own practice. Bailey says, “The co-op board will do everything they can to stay in power. So what they do is they make sure only their names are listed on the ballots going out.” Bailey notes that in many instances this is legal, “but it's kind of unfair because it inclines owners to vote for the people who are in the list.”
Another important point that Bailey makes is that to maintain their power, the board, “doesn't educate the shareholders on how to run for election. The board of directors has an attorney giving them advice on how to follow all the rules to stay in power, but not advising them of how to actually get someone onto the ballot in the first place. Accordingly, the residents of the buildings don't realize that with this sophisticated board, they can't disrupt the meeting and win the election.”
So what can be done to unseat these intransigent board members? Bailey says, “You have to be a sneak campaign. But the way to win an election is through proxies. So proxies are everything. So the smart shareholders that went through an election know to start collecting proxies early. A proxy is a document whereby someone else gives up the right to vote and allows you to vote for whoever you want as the person holding a proxy. So the key to an election is the proxies.”