Forty-three years ago this month, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to ensure every American can register to vote and cast a ballot, and to make sure that every vote is counted. Unfortunately those cherished protections have not been extended to some of the most local elections in California.
Elections for the boards of local homeowners associations touch the lives and pocketbooks of millions. But there is little oversight of these contests, and reports of abuse are frequent. That is why the Legislature should pass Senate Bill 1265 to ensure fair elections.
California has 55,000 homeowners associations, quasi-governmental entities that have rule-making authority over developments. A development’s covenants, conditions and restrictions set the ground rules for HOA elections, including minimum qualifications for candidates and voters, the voting power of each member, voting periods for elections and restrictions on who handles sealed ballots.
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Sadly, too many HOA boards are accused of using arbitrary, unjust rules to maintain their control, excluding and disenfranchising residents who seek to challenge them. Boards have manipulated election results by failing to announce when it will occur, failing to deliver ballots to all residents and failing to count all valid ballots.
Also, boards have fined and disqualified challengers for an HOA seat. Often, homeowners say, people are prohibited from running because of a past-due assessment that may be in dispute. These self-serving actions make a mockery of HOA voting rights.
As elected officials, we have heard plenty of horror stories about HOA abuses and have passed legislation to protect the rights of residents. We believe SB 1265, now pending on the Assembly floor, will further protect voting rights of homeowners.
The bill would require HOAs to clearly spell out election procedures, such as informing residents of the date, time and location for voting, banning individuals or companies with a financial conflict from being election inspectors and limiting who can be disqualified from serving on a board. Members who have been convicted of a felony involving bribery, embezzlement, extortion or theft, or perjury or conspiracy to commit such crimes would not be eligible to serve.
These common-sense changes will restore and preserve integrity in the voting process and end the abuses of board members who see them more as their own secret clubs rather than the instruments to responsibly manage their association.
Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, represents the 10th state Senate District and can be contacted at Senator.Wieckowski@senate.ca.gov Dave Jones is California insurance commissioner and can be contacted at Commissionerjones@insurance.ca.gov.