A Chicago lawyer has asked a Cook County judge to void a new Chicago city ordinance restricting the ability of condominium owners the opportunity to learn who is voting in their condo association elections, and what the actual results of the voting may be, beyond that which is shared by the condo boards.
On March 30, attorney Shorge Sato, who serves as secretary on a condo association board and is also condo owner, said the city ordinance, while designed ostensibly to protect condo owners’ privacy, conflicts with state law and tips the balance of power to condo association boards, potentially allowing the association boards to do as they please, with no recourse for owners and association members to discover if they are being misled.
“It is almost unbelievable, but it’s true…” Sato wrote in his complaint. “In the name of ‘privacy,’ the Chicago City Council has quietly deleted the right to vote of hundreds of thousands of condo owners in Chicago. The fundamental right to vote is necessarily predicated on the right to vote in a ‘free and equal’ election.
“There is, of course, no real right to vote where incumbent condo board directors can freely discard ballots, manufacture proxies, stuff ballot boxes, manipulate election results and declare victors and losers without any meaningful ability to contest or challenge.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a city ordinance enacted at the end of March its supporters in the City Council said was designed specifically to locally override a state law requiring condo association boards to disclose, upon written request from a condo association member, the personal phone numbers and email addresses of all condo owners within the association.
The new state law had taken effect Jan. 1.
Under the city ordinance, condo associations in Chicago cannot provide the personal information of their members to other unit owners unless two-thirds of all owners agree to allow such disclosures.
However, the ordinance goes further, also allowing condo association boards to refuse to disclose “weighted votes,” or the amount of relative influence certain condo owners have within an association, based on their ownership of shares within a particular condo complex or building.
Sato’s lawsuit does not take aim at the privacy aspects of the ordinance. Rather, he asserts the prohibition on disclosure of owner identities, couple with the prohibition on disclosure of weighted voting, leaves condo owners unable to determine if any condo association elections were actually fair and honest.
He said the inability for owners to obtain the information covered by the ordinance would make it all but impossible for condo owners opposed to a board action or policy decision to challenge or organize opposition from felllow unit owners against the incumbent association board.
“The ability to not only see the election ballots (and proxies), but to also compare those ballots and proxies to the official unit owner list (including weighted vote percentages), is fundamental to protect the integrity of any election process,” Sato said in his lawsuit.
Sato asserts the city of Chicago has overstepped its authority under the state constitution’s home rule provisions, as he argues condominiums cannot exist apart from state law, and are governed by state law. Condo associations are granted their powers by state law, and protections for condo unit owners are enshrined in the state’s condominium act.
“Here, the (Chicago ordinance) touches on an issue of vital state interest that is central to the very design of the Illinois Condominium Property Act: the protection of non-board-member condo unit owner interests and rights,” Sato said.
As a board secretary, he noted, the ordinance also places him in a bind: While the ordinance forbids him from releasing the protected owner information, the state law requires him to release such information to valid owners on request.
Further, he asserted, the inability to know if an election or other owner vote is fair and equal infringes on the 14th Amendment Constitutional rights of condo owners to due process of law.
“The Due Process Clause … prohibits (Chicago) from enacting an ordinance that disenfranchises condo unit owners and denies them the right to campaign and vote in free and equal elections,” Sato wrote.
Sato asked the judge to declare the ordinance unconstitutional and void.
Sato is representing himself in the action.