By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Election season is in full swing. The American public is once again paying attention to their voting rights for the upcoming contentious Presidential election.
There’s a lot of talk about the unfairness of delegate systems used to select political party nominees. In fact, we are hearing the typical old gripes about the limitations of a two-party system. No doubt, in a few months we will also have the perennial national debate on the virtues and curses of our electoral college.
In general, a lot of us don’t feel like our votes really count. And this year, the angst is especially pronounced.
So the following report released the Election Integrity Project does not come as a surprise.
U.S. elections ranked worst among Western democracies. Here’s why.
Americans are often proud of the democratic process here. Maybe they shouldn’t be.
This chart compares and contrasts the overall 100-point PEI index for all elections held since 2012 in the Western democracies covered in the survey. In the United States, this covers both the 2012 presidential elections and the 2014 congressional contests.
Americans often express pride in their democracy, yet the results indicate that domestic and international experts rate the U.S. elections as the worst among all Western democracies.
The report goes onto list shortcomings of the U.S. Election process: (my emphasis added)
The results show that the worst problem across most states involved gerrymandering of district boundaries to favor incumbents. The mean score for U.S. states was just 42 on a 100-point scale.
Other weaknesses concerned whether electoral laws were unfair to smaller parties like the Green Party, favored the governing party or restricted voters’ rights.
Campaign finance — for example, whether parties and candidates had equitable access to public subsidies and political donations — was also seen by experts as a problem.
Finally, voter registration was also viewed critically. Issues here included whether the register itself was accurate, with, in some cases, citizens not listed, and, in others, ineligible voters registered.
By contrast, voting processes were rated more favorably. Factors here included whether any fraudulent votes were cast, whether the voting process was easy, whether voters were offered a genuine choice at the ballot box, along with the vote count and post-election results. These last two measures each received a high score of 85.
It appears that most of the corrupting influence occurs before election day. Political elites manipulate elections by allocating different blocs of voters to specific representatives or delegates, retaining party control, amassing huge amounts of money from relatively few generous donors, and disqualifying or disenfranchising voters through a chaotic registration process.
How do Association Governed Residential Community (HOA) elections compare?
There has been a considerable amount of bad press this year regarding election fraud at the hyper local level – in homeowners’, condominium, and cooperative associations. Florida and Nevada have received the most negative press on the issue. But this is not an isolated problem, mostly because the process remains largely unregulated and tends to be supervised by the very same people who fight to retain their positions on association boards.
Most of the mainstream press reports focus on fraudulent ballots or proxies in order to rig elections. But, in a lot of ways, HOAs are vulnerable to many of the same pre-election process tactics as general elections.
One common but devious way to skew HOA votes is to disqualify members from voting because they are no longer in good standing. That can be done By issuing fines for “violations” or delayed posting of assessment payments, revoking voting rights of key individual members just in time for an election.
Large planned communities divided into construction phases or “districts” often assign member voting interests or proxies to Voting Representatives. Many times, the owner will not have a direct vote by ballot or by proxy. A Voting Representative usually does not actually conduct a poll or vote of district members to determine who they would prefer to elect. It is entirely up to discretion – or whim – of each Voting Representative. That’s very much akin to an unassigned, uncommitted delegate in state primary elections.
But there is one fundamental difference between government elections and HOA elections. That difference is encompassed in one word: Hierarchy.
Voting Hierarchy in HOAs
In government elections, the core principle is One Person, One Vote. That is to say, each registered adult age 18 and up is eligible to cast a single vote in each election applicable to his or her place of primary residency. In theory, each vote carries equal weight.
Many will argue that unequal distribution of delegate votes and gerrymandered Congressional districts skew votes toward reelection of incumbents, or hand disproportionate power to population centers. And this election cycle, we are hearing voter outcry over unassigned state delegates and super delegates who could very well choose Presidential party nominees in contradiction to the majority of votes cast.
But at the local level of Association Governed Residential Communities, inequality is even more pronounced.
Why aren’t Americans just as outraged by HOA election processes, if not even more?
In HOA elections, a corporate voting system assigns votes according to the amount of property one owns, and developers get weighted votes.
That creates a voting power hierarchy as follows:
- Non-owner resident, tenant: NO Vote
- Single Family Home owner: One vote per home owned, even if not residing in the dwelling
- Condo owner: Vote proportional to size of unit, even if not residing in the dwelling. A bigger unit has greater voting power than a smaller unit.
- Investor group owning many units: Accumulates votes for each unit owned, even if not a resident of the community. May own enough units to gain control of the corporation Board for the Association.
- Developer: During construction of new homes and units, appoints the Board (no election), and carries weighted voting (ratios range from 3:1 to 9:1) for Association business matters such as amending the governing documents or voting to waive reserve contributions.
Because the playing field begins with unequal voting power, disenfranchisement in HOAs is systemic. The founding philosophy of today’s Association-Governed Residential Communities is this: the more you own, the greater your investment, the more power you deserve. And if you do not own property, you are deemed non-productive and expendable.
Contrast that with core U.S. Constitutional principles: everyone is created equal, and therefore deserves an equal voice and vote.
The Challenge: Make Every Vote Count
U.S. Voter turnout is among the lowest among developed countries. Most experts blame a complicated voter registration process and other demographic factors. HOA voter turnout is abysmally low, and industry experts blame that on member apathy.
But could the real reason be that most Americans understand that their vote does not really count – at least not on an equal basis with a small but politically influential voter base?
Just as we did in the era of Civil Rights, it is once again time for Americans to re-evaluate our election processes – in local communities and at the state and federal levels – to align with core principles of Representative Democracy in our Constitutional Republic.
That begins by eliminating the voting power hierarchy typically imposed by Association-Governed Residential Communities, ending manipulative tactics across the board that skew elections, and insuring that delegate votes in general elections represent actual votes cast.
What do you think?