People are passionate about proxy voting in community associations. Some strongly favor the practice, and others strongly oppose it. Few are neutral.
After this column recently discussed the pros and cons of proxies, we received more than 120 responses from readers across the country. Today, we share a selection of their comments. First, a short review.
Illinois associations must gather a quorum, usually 20 percent of the owners, to elect board members each year. Owners may sign a proxy ballot that designates another person to vote for them. Proxies count toward the quorum.
Advocates say proxies are necessary because meetings are poorly attended. Opponents say proxies easily are abused and forged.
Steve Glanstein, a professional registered parliamentarian and president of Management Information Consultants in Honolulu, sees both sides.
"If proxies are banned, it destroys the rights of owners who don't live near the meeting place, or who can't be there," he said.
Alternatively, owners can successfully push their personal agendas by collecting a large number of proxies and seating themselves on the board, Glanstein said.
That's OK with property manager Len Kaiser of Hammersmith Management Inc. in Denver.
"I have had board members come to a meeting with 10 to 20 proxies," he said. "To obtain them, they had to speak with that many owners and tell them their views of the community and where they wanted to take it. Some may call that rigged. I call it good old-fashioned campaigning."
Proxies save money, said John Tarlton, president of Junction Property Management in Dallas.
Lack of a quorum "makes them call at least another meeting," he said. "There is the additional cost of the mail-outs and reminders, the board's meeting preparation, copies of meeting info and possible additional rental costs for the space."
If you can fill out a proxy, why not fill out an absentee ballot and vote, suggested Laura Wilson, a San Diego-based consultant to developers of homeowner associations.
"Or return the ballot for quorum purposes only. That's an option we have in California," she said.
Absentee ballots are more secure than proxies, said Deborah Goonan, a former association owner and volunteer in Ormond Beach, Fla.
"Why should I hand my proxy ballot to another member when I could put my ballot in a double envelope and have it handled by a neutral third party and opened and counted at an open meeting?" she said.
But absentee ballots aren't the perfect solution either. They preclude owners from hearing final campaign speeches or voting for candidates who are nominated from the floor, said Howard Cihak, a property manager in Falls Church, Va.
"In both instances, a live proxy holder can make a last-minute decision on who is better trusted with the vote that an absent owner clearly could not make for himself," he said.
To address the pitfalls, legislatures and associations have implemented such provisions as limiting the number of proxies a person can hold, requiring proxy solicitors to register with the association and even banning proxies.
Many responders viewed quorums as a bigger challenge than proxies.
"We have to work harder at getting our quorums met just to do business than we do anything else as a board," said Donald Mueller, president of an 83-unit association in Tacoma, Wash. "I don't care if it's an absentee ballot, proxy or raised flags, you have to have the participation."
Dennis Kolb is treasurer of a 1,740-unit association in Raleigh, N.C., that two years ago began printing proxies on postage-paid postcards.
"It has helped, and we usually get enough postcards returned to make quorum a week or so ahead of the annual meeting," he said. "We also send email reminders out to homeowners to return the proxies, or more preferably, to attend the meeting."
"I'd like to see (association) elections run like every other election — no quorum, whoever votes determines the outcome," Wilson said. "If only a handful of members vote, so be it. Maybe next time, more people will come out if they don't like the outcome. It works on a presidential level."