Pines Officials Consider Electronic Voting

OCEAN PINES – Officials in Ocean Pines are exploring options for electronic voting.

Last week, Elections Committee Chair Carol Ludwig presented the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors with a presentation on electronic voting for future elections.

“We’ve put our foot out there to say we strongly suggest the Board of Directors vote in favor of online voting with a phone-in option, which would be looked at by our general manager,” she said.

In last week’s presentation, Ludwig outlined the association’s challenges with the current election process, which utilizes mail-in ballots with business reply envelopes for ballot returns.

She said not only did the community’s bylaws provide a tight timeline for mailing and receiving ballots, but that there were concerns about duplicate ballots, election security and lengthy scanning times. Ludwig pointed out the number of late, or invalid, ballots had also increased from 182 in 2020 to 289 in 2021.

“The process right now is obviously negatively impacted by the postal service,” she explained.

By using electronic voting, Ludwig said homeowners would be mailed an ID number and asked to login and vote through a website.

“We still have to do some type of mailing,” she said.

Ludwig noted, however, that the online process would provide election results within minutes of the deadline and save the association money on postage, scanning equipment and paper.

“Right now there is a real challenge with paper,” she said. “We’re even talking Ocean Pines may have a challenge getting out the next newsletter because of the inability to get paper.”

Ludwig added the new process could also include a phone-in option.

“We thought with the addition of a phone-in option, which a few contractors provide, the owners can call in their vote if necessary,” she said.

Estimates provided to board members last week showed the current election process costing the association more than $15,000. Cost estimates from online voting vendors ranged from $3,414 to $13,827.

President Colette Horn asked if there was any consideration for a hybrid voting system, giving association members the option to either vote online or by mail.

“It would defeat the whole purpose of what we are trying to accomplish,” Director Larry Perrone replied.

Horn disagreed.

“The purpose is not simply cost savings, it’s time savings,” she said. “We’ve heard the slowness of the mail is a major concern.”

Director Frank Daly also questioned if the association’s bylaws allowed for electronic voting to replace mail-in ballots.

“Does this require a bylaws change?” he said. “As I recall, there’s a statement in the bylaws that says the ballots will be mailed.”

Board members agreed they needed a legal opinion.

Daly also suggested trying electronic voting for proposed short-term rental regulations, which require a referendum to change the association’s declaration of restrictions (DR).

“DR changes are not governed by the bylaws …,” he said. “If that works, we can hold off for this election, so we can get our ducks in a row.”

Perrone agreed.

“I’m concerned about using this process for this year’s election,” he said. “I would feel much better if we got our data by doing the DR changes.”

When asked if a bylaw change on the election process could be included in the upcoming referendum, officials said it was too late, as a notification of proposed referendum questions had already been mailed to homeowners.

“I really think we’re dancing with the devil to try and do it in this referendum,” Daly said.

After further discussion, the board agreed to direct the general manager to explore an electronic voting process and potential vendors. Officials also agreed to form a workgroup to explore online voting for the upcoming short-term rental referendum.

“Based on this conversation we have a couple of action items,” Director Doug Parks said. “One of them is to basically frame the vote on the DRs as a separate task … The second part is we have to agree that in concept we’re going to continue with the current way of doing our elections in conjunction with our Elections Committee. And the third thing is we’ll have some follow-up information as to how we start to transition into electronic voting to include a change to the bylaws, so we can move forward in the most appropriate way.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.