- A handful of independent firms will oversee a board election if your building is worried about impropriety
- The service handles bylaw-mandated mailings and the vote itself, though your property manager will share the results
While managing an election tends to be part of a co-op or condo board’s routine responsibilities, some buildings have turned to independent companies to handle the logistics, particularly for buildings hosting their meetings online.
These companies manage a building’s annual board election, and are often contacted because residents complained that the previous year’s vote was fraudulent, says Brien Gittens, the director of The Voting Group, which has handled hundreds of elections for condos and co-ops in New York and Florida.
The pandemic prompted more boards to consider third-party election oversight, thanks to the complexities of handling online or hybrid voting, says Will Kwan, a managing partner at EZ Election Solutions, which advises more than 100 buildings on elections and annual meetings in all five boroughs, plus Westchester and Long Island.
“All the buildings were used to holding everything in-person, and the movement to online [annual meetings] was really impromptu when it started in 2020,” Kwan says. “We basically saw that buildings were still struggling to get online, and people were not sure how to handle it. And so that really started our business.”
If your board is considering hiring an external firm to manage its election, you may be wondering exactly how the process works. While it varies by company, most firms will reach out to residents, count the ballots, and certify the results within one to two days of the election’s conclusion. All of their work is done according to the building’s bylaws, Kwan says.
Read on for a play-by-play of what a third-party election company handles, and what your board, property manager, or lawyer will have to do.
Preparation for the election
Your condo or co-op building’s bylaws will specify how early residents need to be notified of an election, so if your board is considering using a third-party election firm, they need to reach out early, Gittens says.
An election company will need to gather information from your property manager, including last year’s meeting package and a list of names, physical addresses, and often email addresses for residents of the building, says Corinne Arnold, a managing partner at EZ Election Solutions. They will also need to review your bylaws and the ballots with your building’s attorney, because each condo or co-op has its own unique rules, Kwan says.
“Everything has to clear the corporate attorney for that building,” Kwan says. “We don’t do anything without them.”
The preparation work can be extensive, so Gittens recommends reaching out at least three months in advance. For example, if a building needs to call for nominations for different board positions, The Voting Group would send out an initial mailing with that request, usually up to 60 days before the election. Then it would send out a subsequent mailing with the voting package, Gittens says. (Your board might opt to skip that initial nomination mailing to save a little cash, and just put calls for nominees on their website, Kwan says).
Most buildings still require the notice of the annual meeting and election to be sent through the postal mail, though some buildings will email their residents in addition to a physical letter, Arnold says.
The big day
Once election day arrives, a third-party election company will handle the voting itself. If an annual meeting is hybrid or in-person, the firm will check individual ID cards to confirm residents’ identities. If residents are voting online, they can confirm identities using residents’ email addresses, and send out push notifications reminding residents to vote, Arnold says.
The third-party firm also confirms whether there’s a quorum, because without one a building can’t have an election. While that’s rare, sometimes residents will fail to show up to a well-functioning building’s annual meeting, Gittens says.
“People get lackadaisical; the better things are running, the less concerned they are,” Gittens says. “So that’s that. No quorum, it’s done.”
One of the benefits of having a third-party oversee the election process is security, though voter fraud is fairly rare, Arnold says. But having a separate firm handle the election also protects boards from the appearance of a conflict of interest in contested elections, she added.
“The reason that a building would hire us is because there's an inherent conflict between the managing agents and the outcome of the election in certain cases,” Arnold says. “That, and also because we have a standard best practice that ensures the meeting runs fairly smoothly.”
Usually, voting will end right when the annual meeting concludes, but for hybrid or virtual elections, boards will occasionally set a cutoff time for voting the day after a meeting, Kwan says. Once all the votes are in, the count begins, based on a building’s bylaws. Only the third-party company handles the vote count itself, and will double check the results for accuracy, Kwan says.
Releasing the results
Your property manager can expect to get the results of the election within one to two days of the annual meeting, Arnold says. Occasionally, a board has pushed Gittens to get the results out faster, but he says a delay is crucial to confirm the accuracy of the count and to keep a meeting from getting too hectic.
Both companies will send the results and a certification document—which verifies the vote’s accuracy—over to the property manager. It’s then the property manager’s responsibility to deliver those results, plus the verification, to residents. That additional document can offer boards a layer of security when it comes to residents who might not have gotten their desired result, Gittens says.
Residents tend to respect the results of a third-party company because it is independent, even if the firm was called in because of a controversy over a previous election, Gittens says.
“We do try to get a feel for the climate a little bit before the election, because in other words, we like to know whether we’re walking into a buzzsaw.” Gittens says. “We’re nonpartisan. We don’t know anybody there. We just come in, do the job, and we’re gone. So nobody can claim that there was any favoritism or collusion involved in any way.”
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