There has been much excitement around the idea of online voting in strata with that idea now becoming a reality for some strata schemes. While online voting offers enormous potential for increased efficiency and flexibility, it is not without its challenges.
It is important that legislative compliance and voter preferences/behaviour are balanced with the freedom and flexibility of voting online. It is also essential that the solution is well integrated into the systems and processes already employed by strata managers.
There are many similarities between the regulations of strata titles properties across the states of Australia, however, there are also some important differences. One of the areas where these differences can be subtle, but impactful, is voting. Even, within each state, there are often several different categories of strata schemes that are governed by separate pieces of legislation.
As the stakeholders in the strata industry have become increasingly interested in innovation and efficiency, there has been greater demand for simpler, more efficient but legally compliant ways in which to vote. Electronic or online voting provides the opportunity for lot owners to have flexibility in the way they are able to receive notices or attend and participate in meetings. This has lead to overall higher levels of inclusiveness in decision making. Having the technology required to facilitate electronic voting is one thing, but ensuring that the actual voting method meets all of the necessary legal requirements, given all of the state specific nuances of voting in strata is quite another. The discussion around how to improve strata decision making efficiency through electronic voting shines a spotlight on the question, “How does strata voting actually work?”, in order to ensure that functionality and compliance are achievable.
A great deal of work, effort and skill goes into holding effective Committee and General Meetings. After ensuring that the agenda is right, the motions are well drafted, the meeting is correctly called, notices are compliant and have been properly issued in the required time and there is a requisite quorum for the meeting, it is still possible for matters to unravel due to technical non-compliance in the way in which votes are actually cast or by whom they have been cast. These technical issues are potentially amplified by the use of technology. Strata Managers will always have an essential role to play in the facilitation of Strata Corporation decision making and assisting strata schemes to navigate the technical and nuanced challenges of voting in a common sense way.
There can be grey areas in terms of what constitutes attendance or participation at a meeting, what type of attendance counts towards the calculation of the quorum, the manner in which a vote may be cast, who is an eligible voter, how the results of a motion are announced and what the legal effect of declaring the result of a motion is.
Each of the state legislations governing strata aim to strike a balance between setting a consistent regulatory framework for good governance and permitting sufficient freedom and flexibility to allow Strata Corporations to effectively self-govern. While the legislation in each state appears to be quite prescriptive on the issue of voting, there are various aspects of the voting process which can be customised by the Strata Corporation. Strata Corporations should also consider how they wish to best use these technological advances to suit their lot owners’ needs. They need to ensure that their motions for adopting certain electronic voting works for their scheme and there is no ambiguity with regards to their state legislation.
Legislation in some states already provides for electronic voting. For some it is necessary to rely upon the relevant electronic transactions legislation and Acts and interpretation of such Acts in order to determine that voting can take place electronically.
Given these grey areas, and that each state’s legislation is designed to leave room for Strata Corporations to self-govern, it is important that any ambiguity is covered by the details of the motion for electronic voting, including whether or not the scheme wishes to allow the following:
- notices of meeting to be delivered by email, posting the document on an electronic file sharing platform or specific voting platform
- votes to be cast by email, posting a ballot, voting paper on an electronic file sharing platform or otherwise indicating an electronic vote by selecting a button on a specific voting platform
- voting by electronic means to count towards the meeting quorum and attendance requirements
- delivery of minutes of meetings electronically
It is also worth considering the potential distinction between the levels of online voting as follows:
- pre-meeting electronic voting - being voting by voting paper or pre-meeting ballot, sent electronically by email or fax
- online voting – being the use of a specialised voting platform to vote both pre-meeting and during the meeting
It is suggested strata managers engage with their schemes on these issues and gauge the level of voting flexibility they are comfortable with. Some managers and schemes may prefer to set a cut off for online voting before the meeting, while others may choose online meetings as their preferred or predominant way of undertaking meetings and taking votes.
These customisable options are in addition to the ways in which notices are issued, meetings are conducted and votes are cast under the legislation. Therefore, if some owners wish to receive notices in paper only and to meet in person, then the strata scheme will be required to accommodate this and consolidate in person votes with online votes.
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