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Advantage Incumbents

“It’s impossible to unseat the incumbents.” “I’ve been trying to get on the board forever and no matter how many proxies I get they still win.” “The whole thing’s rigged.”

That’s what owners say all the time. Well, it’s not impossible, but difficult.  Here’s why.

The Power of Office: Know those pictures of the president sitting in the oval office that radiate a quiet authority, and make him look like he knows what he’s doing even if he doesn’t. Nobody’s going to play ruffles and flourishes for sitting board members, but people know who they are by virtue of their position, and all things being equal will vote for them the way they return the same representatives to Congress for life.

Control Over Communication: Add to that, incumbents have control of the message and the message machine, which enables them to put a positive spin on whatever they did or didn’t do, and then have their words sent out by management or slipped under doors by staff without themselves lifting a finger or licking a stamp.  Just recently I saw a self-congratulatory letter sent out by the president of a building whose finances were in a state of total disarray. And if the president directs that notice of the incumbent-approved slate be sent out to owners, odds are it will get done — leaving challengers to scramble to get out word of their candidacy.

Proxy Games: Usually proxies don’t have to take any special form to be effective, which hasn’t stopped some boards from trying to influence their use by sending out notices directing that proxies be given to individually-named directors (even though anyone can be designated) or by seeking to impose requirements that have no basis other than to help them get elected.(from color coding to number stamping to insisting on “originals”).

Candidate Spigots: Some buildings have nominating committees to control the flow, that allow board members to winnow the field of potential candidates to a finite number, a process that leaves owners out of the loop and makes it possible in advance to influence the outcome

Cut-off Date: In lots of more democratically inclined buildings, anyone who wants may throw her hat in the ring, but that doesn’t mean their names will appear on the printed ballot. Huh? Potential candidates usually are asked to announce their intent and submit their platform by a certain date if they want their name to be included on the printed ballot.  As anyone who lives in High Rise Society knows, most people are so conflicted about whether or not to run that they don’t make up their minds till the last minute.  So by setting the deadline unrealistically early, the board can effectively preclude any names, but their own, from appearing on the printed ballot.

Ballot Format: In the real world politicians go to court to secure an advantageous position on the ballot. But in High Rise Society, those in power control whose name goes where. Even if the cut-off date is fixed to allow adversaries to make it onto the printed ballot, incumbents can give themselves a boost by listing themselves first, rather than listing everyone alphabetically — even adding asterisks or gold stars to their names to highlight their special status.

Tallying The Results: Here’s where things can get tricky.  Votes are usually tabulated by the management company retained by the board, which can give rise (justifiably or not) to questions about the legitimacy of the count, especially if there are a lot of absentee owners who voted by proxy.  And while board members have access to the tally, they don’t have a legal obligation to let owners see the results. Some do. Plenty don’t. Sure, owners can go to court to challenge the election and demand that the vote tallies be produced, but that takes more time and money than most of them have, which can leave a cloud over the legitimacy of those who supposedly won — at least till the next election.

Have a familiar ring?

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