December 09 2010
Why? It’s expensive and time consuming to mount a legal challenge. Just think of all those lawyers called in to contest the results in some of the just past too-close-to-call Tea Party races. And you have to act relatively fast because New York law gives you only four months in which to challenge the annual meeting results.
None of that stopped three defeated insurgents at West Village Houses who recently fired the first legal salvo, seeking to overturn the results of the election just past on the grounds that the process was tainted in multiple ways.
Key among them is a a claim that personnel from Honest Ballot Association, which had been retained to ensure fair elections, secretly disclosed to the incumbent president, but not the insurgents, the total number of shares available to vote in person and by proxy. Because their bylaws provide for cumulative voting, by which shareholders can cast all their shares for one candidate or divide them up at will among multiple candidates, the so called “number of votes in the house” gave the incumbents an unfair advantage in determining how to cast their ballots to win the maximum number of seats.
Instead of counting the ballots immediately following the election, as had always been done, they were taken to the Queens offices of Honest Ballot for tabulation the next day. Only the two shareholders who’d been selected to act as election inspectors say they were left to cool their heels, not permitted to do their duty.
- We weren’t allowed to see, let alone count, any of the proxies or the ballots.
- The bundle of proxies and ballots submitted by the incumbent president were segregated from the rest and counted behind closed doors which made us questions whether they were properly tabulated.
- We weren’t allowed to see the disqualified ballots and proxies, nor told why they were disallowed.
- We saw people using “white out” on election-related materials.
- We stayed there from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. but weren’t allowed to carry out our responsibility under the law to determine the validity of proxies and ballots, count the votes, and make sure the election was fairly conducted.
Only when the election results were posted, did the inspectors learn that 6 proxies and 7 ballots, representing more than 7% of the votes cast had been disqualified, a number they say, given the closeness of the race, was sufficient to have changed the election outcome and given the insurgents a majority.
So will they get a second bite at the apple? It’s too soon to tell because the incumbents haven’t yet had their say, at least not in court, though according to a building insider they’re already doing some strategic politicking, advising owners that if a new election is ordered, it will cost another $10,000 to bring in an outside firm to monitor the proceedings. In the interim the court has ordered Honest Ballot to preserve all voting records of the election.
It’s not easy to force a redo, but it can be done. Earlier this year the court not only ordered a new election at a Brooklyn co-op, but also enjoined the existing board from binding the corporation to any unusual expenses till then.