How To Make Your Body Corporate Secret Ballot Count

body corporate secret ballotI often act as returning officer for body corporates. A returning officer is an impartial third party who acts as referee in validating and opening body corporate secret ballots. Usually those matters relate to Management Rights or election of committee.

I did a job the other day where the outcome of the vote hinged on my decision. I ruled a secret ballot invalid and the motion was lost, even though the lot owner clearly voted in favour of the motion passing.

The vote was invalidated because the lot owner was identified on the voting paper.

Body corporate secret ballots and votes are held to allow lot owners to vote as their conscience dictates without influence or feedback. Simply put everyone gets to vote without anyone else knowing how they voted. It’s a simple yet powerful idea.

Identifying yourself on the voting paper makes a mockery of that idea.

Some people argue, “I don’t care if others know how I vote”. But that’s not the point.

The point is the vote is without influence or feedback. Each lot owner makes their decision and that decision remains unknown to everyone. The vote is not influenced in any way, and future votes are not influenced either.

The Process for Body Corporate Secret Ballots

There’s a process to secret voting, a process that must be followed in order to make your vote valid.

Every Notice of Meeting where a secret vote is held will contain instructions on how to complete the vote validly. Regardless of that almost every secret vote has some votes that are ruled invalid.

In our fast paced world I think errors occur because of a case of Tl;dr (too long; didn’t read).

With that in mind I’ve created a simple, visual guide to completing, validating and returning your secret vote.

Step 1: Complete your voting paper

You may complete your vote in any way that clearly shows how you’ve voted. If there are multiple motions you may vote for only those motions that you wish to vote for.

If you make a mistake, or change your mind, you may cross out your vote and choose another. If need be you may even write your vote on the paper.

If you do write on the voting paper do not sign the change or make an explanation or in any way write anything that may be able to be used to identify you.

Whether or not the vote is valid is decided at the meeting by the returning officer, usually very quickly, and anything you’ve write on the voting paper will increase the chances the vote is declared invalid.

body corporate secret ballot

Step 2: Verify your right to vote

Once the voting paper is complete it should be inserted into the verification envelope.

You must verify your right to vote on the  envelope by completing all the details in full.

One vote may be accepted from each lot, and each vote that is accepted must be made by a valid lot owner with the right to vote. Your right to vote may be queried if:

  • you have outstanding levies owing (if you don’t pay your levies by the due date you are not eligible to vote at meetings)
  • the lot owner is a company and you have not completed a Corporate Nominee form
  • you are voting with an Enduring Power of Attorney but have not notified the body corporate in advance
  • you are voting on behalf of a deceased estate but have not notified the body corporate in advance

Before the vote is counted each envelope is checked. If the details on the envelope don’t match the information the Returning Officer has the vote is invalid and not counted.

body corporate secret ballot

 Step 3: Submit to the Returning Officer

Once your vote is made and your right to vote verified you must submit your secret vote to the Returning Officer.

You may do that by posting the completed envelope and vote directly to the Returning Officer. Most body corporates managers will include a stamped, addressed envelope for just this purpose.

If you do not post your secret ballot then your only other option is to attend the meeting and personally hand the vote directly to the Returning Officer. DO NOT give the vote to someone else to hand in. Votes can only be accepted from lot owners, and, if you do hand the envelope to someone else and they deliver to the Returning Officer it’s likely your vote will be invalidated and possibly theirs.

body corporate secret ballot

Why are the body corporate secret ballot rules so complex?

Remember when we talk about body corporates we’re talking about peoples homes, and emotions can, and often do, run really high. In those situations sometimes people have been tempted to … stack the vote shall we say, to get their own way.

The rules regarding secret ballots have evolved over time to erase as much inconsistency and possible loop holes as possible. A secret vote or ballot is just that; secret, meaning not influenced in any way by how others have voted.

Think of it as chain of evidence. Your vote should come directly from you to the Returning Officer, who then verifies your right to vote before opening the valid votes, at the general meeting in front of everyone, and then your vote becomes unrecognisable one from the next.

A vote that is not completed in compliance of each of the three steps will be invalidated and not counted.

Do it right and make your vote count.

Having a Secret Vote?

If your body corporate is having a secret vote then use please help yourself to a copy of the full Infographic – Make Your Secret Vote Count.

THE BASICS OF BODY CORPORATES

A little knowledge can go a long way


I see so many stressful and frustrating issues in body corporate records that result from simple misunderstandings it hurts my head. If I could do one thing to help it would be to teach everyone the basic rules, so they can avoid all these dramas.


With that in mind I've put together a short eBook that sets out the basics everyone owning in a body corporate really should know. It won't make those big issues go away, but it will give you a firm grounding from which to communicate.


It's completely free, so please, download it now!

Download Now

Comments

  1. All well and good BUT our Body Corporate Management says it is not necessary to have a returning officer with the result being that the BC manager can tell the letting agent how many ballot papers have been submitted in total and the agent ensures that way more than 50% are completed by rental owners than resident owners (using a well practised formula) and wins the secret ballot every year, electing committee members who appear out of nowhere but who have been put up for nomination because they are not ‘questioning’ anything. Owner residents who do nominate and do question are out voted year after year. With 550 rental agent lots and 120 owner residents, the latter have no chance of changing the committee members.

    • Hi Deidre

      There is no requirement for a returning officer to open secret ballot envelopes for committee election, unless the body corporate resolves at a general meeting to do so. This fact sheet http://www.justice.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/12862/Elections.pdf notes the Chairperson is responsible for validating secret ballot envelopes for committee election.

      What you’re talking about with the letting agent is a form of vote stacking, or proxy farming; I was reading this article about it just this morning. It’s incredibly frustrating for some lot owners but unfortunately legal at this point in time.

  2. Lisa, this vote stacking goes against the democratic process and makes a mockery of decision-making. I think there is a need for your information and training material but it becomes irrelevant in community schemes that have unchallenged collaboration between rental agents, facilities managers, BC managers (all service providers who want to keep lucrative contracts) and committee members wooed to keep them in employment. Owner
    Residents (service receivers) who are in the minority to investment owners are frustratingly disenfranchised and paying for it ‘to boot’. Experienced people like yourself should turn your energies to influencing policy makers to address these serious matters that enable unlawful behaviour to be regarded as acceptable. Owners who know about these corroborated practices are trying to scrutinise but need support on all fronts. Please take up the cause Lisa.

    • Hi Deirdre, thanks for commenting.
      I understand your frustration with vote stacking and it is true that some managers and service providers do manipulate the situation to suit themselves, as do some committee members and even lot owners. There are things that any scheme can do to resist vote stacking but it requires co-operation.

      Ultimately the power for change in any scheme resides with the lot owners. But, as with governments everywhere, the “people” need to organise and combine their resistance to effect change. Sadly I think it’s something that a lot of people just won’t do. They want change, they bitterly resent what’s happening, but they’re unprepared to take a stand and make an effort to have that happen.

      I’m not sure what you’re talking about “taking up the cause” but I don’t advocate for outside oversight of body corporates. Owners should be able to do what they choose, so long as it meets the criteria of legislation, which is aimed at protecting every lot owners rights. I don’t think many home-owners want regular inspections from some government body to ensure they’re doing the “right” thing.

  3. Hi Lisa, you mentioned an Enduring Power of Attorney may be used in secret ballot. I understand “a proxy cannot vote on a motion to engage a person as a body corporate manager or a service contractor, or to authorise a person as a letting agent”. Such motion is decided by secret ballot. Can we use a POA here? Thanks.

    • Hi William
      If you hold a Power of Attorney for a lot owner, and that POA is notified to the body corporate, then in effect you become lot owner. That means you may grant or receive proxies and you will be eligible to vote on all matters, including secret ballots, for motions and election of committee for the lot your POA owns.

      The Justice Dept has this to say about notifying the body corporate for POA:

      A representative of a voter is a person who is a guardian, trustee, receiver or other representative, or someone who is authorised to act on the voter’s behalf by a power of attorney, provided that such attorney can not be the body corporate manager, service contractor or letting agent. A representative must give to the secretary a copy of his or her authorisation, or must satisfy the secretary of his or her genuine representative capacity and provide the secretary with an address for service. A nominee for a company must also provide the secretary with a notice of the nomination under the seal of the company or corporation.

      With secret voting the only criteria is being able to be identified by the Returning Officer. To do that you need to notify the body corporate secretary (usually via the manager), prior to or at the meeting, that you hold an POA for a lot holder so that information may be passed to the Returning Officer. Check with your body corporate for the best way to ensure that happens.

      FYI just the caretaking and letting agent motions must be by secret ballot. Appointing a body corporate manager simply has no proxies. No proxies limits “proxy farming” but the caretaking motions are about providing owners with an environment where they may vote their conscience without fear of any repercussions because no one knows how they vote.

  4. Hi Lisa
    Thanks for your explanation. One more question. There is a limit on the number of proxy that a person can hold in the AGM, 5% or 10%, depending on the situation. If we use the POA, will the limit be waived, i.e. the representative can hold as many POAs as possible? Thanks.

    • Hi William
      A POA is not a proxy. It allows you to act for one lot owner only, the person for whom you hold the POA, and it’s a private agreement between the lot owner and whomever holds the POA. If the POA is valid and communicated to the body corporate you will have the same voting rights as any other lot owner, ie you may hold proxies but only up to the 5% or 10% limit.

  5. Hi Lisa, I think I fall along similar lines to those espoused by Deidre back in 2014. We continue to have committee elections by secret ballot with no returning office – just the committee chair and BC management company. The chair and three other positions seem to be filled by the same people, even when other candidates nominate and the remaining three positions rotate to add some semblance of fairness. Un fortunately, four beat three every time. Our chair does not submit any work at the complex to the committee for consideration and also submits his own invoices for payment to organise the work. Does this make him a service provider? Anyway, the short story is, the secret ballot allows the chair and those aligned with him to be re-elected time and time again. I was recently elected as Treasurer and asked to see invoices submitted for payment which is when I found out about the chair charging for quotation/organising services. A motion has subsequently been put by the chair and his three aligned colleagues to have me removed from this position and ejected from the committee – pending a vote by lot owners. I am completely frustrated as to what I can do but intend taking this matter to adjudication. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Brad

      With election of committee by secret ballot the correct procedure is to return the votes to the Secretary, usually via the body corporate manager. The Chairperson should then open the ballot envelopes at the meeting.

      Unfortunately any member of the body corporate can raise a motion to eject a committee member. Its then up to the owners to vote. You could do the same.

      Payment for services rendered is more problematic. Committees are a volunteer position so it’s not often that payment for services rendered are made. That said, the committee or indeed the owners at general meeting can approve. Approval of the payments should be made at least by email, and cannot be made by one person alone; that’s the point of the committee. It also generates a minute to let owners know what’s going on. One committee member can authorise committee payments if they have been empowered to do so by the owners in general meeting.

      Long story short: it sounds strange so do take action. Perhaps you could submit a motion to general meeting that the Chairperson not be paid for organising a quotation. Of course its possible other owners are happy with the arrangement.

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