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Proxy system in Pines called ‘broken’ by committee chair

(April 2, 2015) The Ocean Pines Board of Directors was asked to consider a slight, but potentially significant election reform during a public meeting last Saturday.
According to Elections Committee Chair Bill Wentworth, 65 ballots were rejected during the previous election cycle, in 2014, with 46 of those rejected because they were mailed in proxy envelopes.
Two of the remaining disqualified votes were received after the deadline, and 17 were rejected because the voter selected more than two candidates.
Pat Renaud and Dave Stevens were the top vote getters during the last election, with 1,767 votes and 1,738 votes, respectively. Jeff Knepper came in third with 1,392 votes.
Wentworth said the board originally received his report in September, adding the mailed proxies cost the community $2,000 annually.
“The proxy system is broken,” he said. “There have been several elections with regard to the board of directors over the years decided by less than 46 votes. That’s a real issue.”
Parliamentarian Tom Terry explained the proxy system in Ocean Pines as “the means by which a member can assign someone else the opportunity to vote for them in issues that are brought up at the annual meeting.”
Because a member assigns his or her vote to another person who can attend the annual meeting, it allowed the community to have a quorum at the meeting, via the proxy.
“The problem came when the proxy envelope was being used by people to mail back in their ballot, even though it was made very, very clear in the documentation, ‘do not mail your ballot in this proxy envelope.’ It has to come back in the ballot envelope so they can crosscheck.”
Terry said the ballots and ballot envelopes contain identical codes used to identify each member. Without both codes, the vote cannot be counted.
“That protects us from things like voter fraud and duplication of ballots,” Terry said. “It’s a safety net, and the movement from the elections committee is simply to say this is causing problems and there isn’t a lot of value [in the proxy system]. Quite frankly it’s causing more trouble than it’s worth.
The election committee recommended the board replace the paper proxy with an electronic version, unless otherwise requested by the property owner.
Wentworth said the proxy system also plays havoc on the annual meeting held on the second Saturday in August and used to certify the election, although the bylaws may contain an easy solution.
Section 4.02(b) of Ocean Pines bylaws states, “If the annual meeting of the members is not held on the day designated in the notice of the meeting due to lack of a quorum or for any other reason, the Board of Directors shall hold a special meeting of the Board to receive the voting results from the Elections Committee and validate the election of Directors.”
A quorum, in Ocean Pines, requires, at least 100 votes “in person, by proxy, or by attorney-in-fact” under Section 4.05.
Wentworth suggested the board schedule a special meeting immediately following the annual meeting. If a quorum is not reached, the special meeting can then validate the election. If a quorum is reached, the special meeting may be disregarded.
Stevens, president of the OPA board, said during the meeting that the By-Laws and Resolutions Committee would address the issue. Wentworth, who would likely be a part of the process, expects the committee to follow his recommendations.
“I hope we’re going to be heading in that direction,” he said. “I think we will, and that will eliminate that problem,” he said. “When you get 45, 46 votes not counted, that’s not a good thing.”
No specific timetable was set for a decision, although Wentworth expects one “sooner than later.”
“It’s Dave Stevens time,” he said. “I’d like to do it tomorrow. I hate to have things hanging over my head.”
The elections committee also asked the board to improve community identification cards, disallow votes cast by members with unpaid dues and allow the committee chairman to view the request for proposal for printing ballots before it is sent.