The Increasingly Complex Board Election Process

By Karyn A. Larko, Esq.


** This article was published on CACM’s The Law Journal– Summer 2024 Issue.


The Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (California Civil Code (“CC”) §§5100-5145) mandates the following board election process for incorporated and unincorporated associations. Failing to comply with this process can lead to owner challenges of the election results and litigation, which in turn can lead to the election being voided, the association paying the challenging owner’s attorney’s fees and court costs, and civil penalties of up to $500 for each violation of the law.

Step 1: Notify members of the nominating procedure

The first step in the election process is to notify the members, via general delivery, of the procedure and deadline for submitting nominations for board election. This notice must be given at least 30 days before the nomination deadline and 90 days before the election.

Step 2: Handle unqualified nominees

If persons who do not meet the association’s candidate qualifications are nominated, the board must offer these persons internal dispute resolution before disqualifying them. The purpose of this meeting is to allow these nominees to qualify or prove they are qualified to run.

Step 3: Appoint/hire inspectors of elections

The board must appoint or hire one or three independent parties to oversee the election (“inspectors”). Inspectors can be association members who are not board members, candidates, or family members of board members or candidates. They can also be professional inspectors or other professionals, provided they, the entity they work for, and any parent entity are not performing any other compensable services for the association.

Step 4: Notify members of the election; create candidate and voter lists

At least 30 days before the ballot mailing, the association must notify members of the following via general delivery:

1) The date and time ballots must be received by mail or handed to the inspector(s);

2) The mailing address for returning ballots;

3) The date, time, and location of the election; and

4) The list of all qualified candidates who will appear on the ballot.

For associations that require a quorum to conduct elections, this notice must also include a statement that the board may call a subsequent meeting at least 20 days after the election date if a quorum is not reached. At that time the quorum will be 20% of the members unless the governing documents provide for a lower quorum.

At least 30 days before the ballots are mailed, the association must also prepare voter and candidate lists. The voter list must contain the name, voting power, address of the separate interest or parcel number, and mailing address for the ballot (if different) for all members. The candidate list must contain the names and addresses of all candidates.

Members are allowed to verify the accuracy of their information on these lists. The inspector(s) must correct errors on these lists within two business days of receiving notice of the mistakes.

Step 5: Ballot mailing

At least 30 days before the voting deadline, a ballot, two balloting envelopes, and the election rules must be delivered to all members. If the election rules are posted on the association’s website, the election rules can be omitted if the ballot includes the following statement in at least 12-point type “The rules governing this election may be found here:___.”

An association can but is not required to include candidate statements in the ballot mailing (unless the bylaws or election rules mandate their inclusion).

Step 6: The election

If a quorum is established, the inspector of elections must open ballots in public at a noticed meeting, and members must be permitted to witness the opening and counting of the votes.

If a quorum is required but not achieved at this meeting, the association may adjourn the meeting to a date at least 20 days after the adjourned meeting, at which time the quorum will be 20% of the members under CC §5115(d)(2). To take this action, the association must notify members via general delivery, at least 15 days prior to the reconvened meeting, of the date, time, and location of the meeting; the names of the candidates; that 20% of the members present, or voting by ballot or proxy (if permitted), will constitute a quorum, and that ballots will be counted if a quorum is reached.

Associations with adjourned quorum requirements lower than 20% should refer to their governing documents for any requirements.

Step 7: Announce election results

The election results must be recorded in the minutes of the next board meeting and provided to the members via general delivery within 15 days of the election.

ELECTION BY ACCLAMATION

If an association meets the requirements of CC §5103 and wants to elect board members by acclamation, the required election process changes in the following ways:

• The notice of the nominating procedure must be provided to members via individual notice at least 90 days before the nominating deadline. It must include the number of positions to be elected, the procedure and deadline for nominations, and a statement that if, at the close of the nominating period, the number of qualified candidates is the same or less than the positions to be filled, the board may elect the candidates by acclamation without a member vote.

• A reminder notice must be provided to members via individual delivery between seven and 30 days before the nomination deadline. This notice must include the same information as the original notice and a list of the names of all qualified candidates as of the notice date.

• Within seven business days of receiving a nomination, the association must send a written or electronic acknowledgment of the nomination to the submitter, and a written or electronic communication to the nominee confirming whether the nominee is qualified to be a candidate. These notices can be combined when a member nominates themself.

• The board votes to seat the candidates at an open session Board meeting. The agenda for this meeting must include the names of all qualified candidates who will be seated by acclamation.

PRACTICE TIPS

  • Include the candidate qualifications in the notice of nominating procedures to reduce the likelihood of unqualified persons being nominated.
  • Send out the notice of nominating procedures more than 90 days before the election so you have time to conduct IDR before the notice of the election and the names of the candidates must be provided to the members.
  • Remember the inspector(s) determine where the ballots are returned and kept until the election. This location can be the association’s management office, but only if the inspector(s) authorizes it.
  • While notices required as part of the election process can generally be provided to members by “general delivery” as defined by CC §4045, the association must provide these notices by “individual delivery” to any members who request individual delivery.
  • Check the bylaws and election rules to determine whether proxies are permitted and, if so, consult with the association’s legal counsel to ensure compliance with any requirements about the use of proxies.
  • Remember that the election rules are required and cannot be amended within 90 days of an election.
  • Provide equal access to the common area, without a charge, to members who want to campaign for or against candidates. If the association allows any candidate or member to use any association media, such as a newsletter or website, to campaign, all members must be given the same opportunity to use that media for campaign purposes.
  • If the association’s bylaws or election rules allow nominations from the floor at the annual meeting or write-in candidates, check with the association’s legal counsel before the election for guidance on what to do if someone who does not meet the qualifications to run for board election is nominated from the floor or as a write-in candidate.
  • It is just as important that the ballot mailing contains all of the information required by California law as it is that the association follows the mandated election process. Please consult with the association’s legal counsel if you are unsure what information must be provided.