The three of us were certainly flattered by how many people read and participated in our blog discussion last week regarding The Miami Herald’s expose’ into condo fraud in South Florida. Those of you who live in HOAs must be wondering why the findings were limited to condominiums and not expanded to include HOAs. Are HOAs less corrupt? Are HOAs less likely to have rigged elections or less likely to have Board members who help themselves to association funds?
I think those of you who live in HOAs know the answer to the question. Probably the reason why The Herald focused on condo fraud is because in South Florida there are far more condominiums than homeowner associations. As you go north however, the numbers reverse, and in total there are actually far more homeowner associations.
It can potentially be argued that that because there are simply more HOAs than condominiums, there is more fraud and wrongdoing in HOAs. That may or may not be true. Condominiums generally have larger budgets than HOAs so one could also argue there’s more money to steal in a condo.
In one case I recently worked on, an HOA director was in foreclosure. To avoid the sale of his home, he simply helped himself to about $20,000 of association funds. He was caught. To make matters worse, the local police thought that this director shouldn’t be prosecuted because he “was sorry” and had offered to give the money back. The State Attorney’s Office didn’t care what a particular detective thought and prosecuted the director anyway.
The Miami Herald article focused on massive fraud in the election process. As all of you know, in both condos and HOAs you don’t have to vote in person and provide a photo i.d. before getting a ballot. Instead, you can mail in your vote in a condo and in an HOA, you can give someone your proxy and they now have the power to vote for you. In a condo, every voter must sign the exterior envelope. In an HOA you must sign the proxy form. However, how do we know these signatures are authentic? The answer is, we don’t.
There are a host of arbitration decisions that basically state that a signature cannot be disregarded by the association because it is apparently fake, unless the association is relying on a hand writing expert. So, it is irrelevant if Sally Smith for example who lives at the association for 35 years and signs her check each month in detailed calligraphy, suddenly votes in this election in block letters. The association cannot question whether or not the signature is authentic. The envelope says “Sally Smith” and therefore the vote must be counted.
Perhaps it’s time to require voting in person and you don’t get a ballot unless you present a photo identification. If that is problematic for you, how about the only way you get an absentee ballot is by requesting one in writing and by providing a photo i.d.? The association would be required to maintain records that show the person voting absentee provided a photo identification. All I can tell you is that we elect The President of The United States that way, so it may not be unreasonable to elect your Board members that way.
In any event, it’s certainly time to develop a discussion on cutting down on voter fraud in our associations. The statutes have now authorized voting electronically, but I’m not certain that is the answer either, as passwords can be stolen, sold or both.
I kind of miss the old fashioned voting machines where you go in, close the curtain, flick the lever and pray for the best.
So any ideas about the best way to combat voter fraud?