Question from Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership:
Our BID by-laws allow for proxy voting. We have had several instances where individuals have collected large numbers of proxy votes in an effort to sway elections and ballot questions at annual elections. Has anyone else dealt with this issue? How do you deal with proxies? If you have them do you limit them? If you do not have them, why or why not?
We do not have proxy voting, but the Downtown Committee is a different type of animal than other BIDs in the state that are formed under the state's standard BID law. Since DTC was the first BID in the state, we have our own legislation. Our board is not elected, but all fifteen members are appointed by the mayor, with the one caveat that 11 or more of the board members must be "tax payers" (assessment payers) from the district. In the state law, the majority of the board is elected, and the members (all payers) get to elect the board, or members of the board, which usually means that since they all can't make an annual meeting, that voting by proxy or absentee ballot is allowed (for example CMBID is like that). The risk is that someone can stuff the ballot box if they work hard enough and quietly enough to gather signatures on ballots.
It’s not a BID example, but that is exactly what happened last year with the "coup" inArmory Square, with the election of the officers and board for the Armory Square Association. There was a group of people who felt that the old ASA board did not represent their interests, so when the ballots were sent out, they went door to door to the people who don't normally vote, and got them to write in for a slate that was not the slate recommended by the nominating committee. The amazing thing is that they were able to do this in a stealth manner, so the "old board" didn't even realize that it was happening. So the "old board" never bothered to go out and politic their supporters and have enough votes to offset the new group. One hour before the deadline for proxies in the election, the "new board" showed up with all the ballots, which wiped out the old board and the nominated slate of officers. It was a wholesale change in the leadership of the ASA overnight.
So organizations that allow proxy or absentee ballots are very vulnerable to this. But the Downtown Committee structure isn't, although it’s vulnerable to the political whims of a new Mayor. If he or she wanted to change the board, they could get control of it, but it would take two years (since 4 members terms end every year).
Village of Lyons:
We have not entered that situation.
Village of Churchville:
We don't have these but we run a local election only.
Hornell Partners for Growth:
Proxy voting is in our bi-laws and states the following: Members entitled to vote at meetings must do so by signed proxy. Each member has a vote, except that a member qualifying in more than one class of voting membership shall have one vote in each class.
Owners who own more than one parcel may vote per parcel, tenants only vote once. The election committee should review each ballet for authenticity. Other than that I do not believe anyone has the right to limit a vote, only on the ground of authenticity and that information as you know is available in the assessor office.
Riverhead Business Improvement District:
Riverhead BID uses the "By Proxy" option for our annual elections. Just this past year we witnessed how "By Proxy" could influence a vote. I can offer two possible solutions to your concern.
Solution 1. "Proxy By Mail Acceptance Only"
Mail the proxy to all of your members with a self-addressed stamped envelope for it's return. State on the form that the organization will only accept the mailed original proxy form. It must be returned to the ballot box by mail. Reason: A Canvassed Proxy or "Proxy In Hand" negative contribution to your vote- the opinion of the canvasser is not necessarily the opinion of the voter. This allows for discussion and could possibly change the way a member votes. There are also possibilities of illegal voting practices.
The "Proxy By Mail Acceptance Only" positive contribution - It insures the absolute opinion of the intended voter. Not every members of an organization is an active member. In fact, some are not active at all. This is an unfortunate situation, but every member is entitled the right and the opportunity to cast a vote. In my personal opinion, "Proxy By Mail Acceptance Only", if the member is active, the Proxy will surely find it's way back to the ballot box without any coaxing. If it's a non-active member, when it's received, it only finds the garbage can!
Solution 2. Inform! Inform! Inform!
Communication and information is the key. Keep your entire BID community involved and as informed as possible about your voting procedures and the issues at hand. Advertise your vote. Stress the importance that each member's vote counts. Remember ~ It is a Democracy~ as I have stated before; every member is entitled to the right and opportunity to vote. It's the board’s responsibility - to its members - to protect that right. It is up to the member, who has the right, to exercise it or not.