June 27, 2018 — Residents in Florentine Estates voted strongly in favor of limiting rentals in the 55+ community on Friday night, after a sometimes-contentious campaign that included accusations of voter intimidation and fears that the final vote count would be tampered with.
To pass the measure, a supermajority of 75 percent of the 449 homes in the estate needed to vote in the affirmative. At the final tally, 82 percent of homeowners voted “yes.”
“Of the 401 countable ballots, there was a total of 33 ‘no’ votes and a total of 368 ‘yes’ votes,” said Florentine Estates General Manager Jason Nelson, who oversaw the voting process. “We needed 337 to change the declaration, so, the declaration does pass.”
The measure will not create an outright ban on rentals, instead limiting reasons as to why a homeowner can put their property up for rent. Those who buy property in the community solely for rental purposes would be prohibited, while residents with extenuating circumstances, such as long-term health problems or financial hardships, can place their homes on the rental market.
Properties that already have existing rentals will be immune from the new rule.
“We’re happy that the voter turnout was strong, and residents were able to make their voices heard,” Nelson said.
The campaign to get out the vote was met with controversy, with some residents claiming that Florentine’s homeowner’s association used aggressive tactics to sway people's votes, including harassment. The Siuslaw News, in an article published on June 16, looked into the accusations and found no evidence of intimidation.
At that time, several residents questioned the newspaper’s use of anonymous sources in the article. However, multiple individuals had come forward with concerns about impartiality in the campaign, but because of the small population of Florentine residents, the individuals requested anonymity in fear of retaliation from neighbors.
Ballots were sent out to every property owner in Florentine, including banks who owned properties through foreclosures. According to Nelson, those votes are generally not returned.
The “no” campaign had the edge at the beginning of the night. Out of 449 lots, only 403 ballots were received. Not voting counted as a “no” vote, so at the outset, opposition to the rule was ahead by 46.
Out of the 403 ballots received, only 401 were countable. For instance, one vote was discarded because a resident sent a vote in through an opinion poll the estate had sent out earlier in the year, not on an official ballot. That “yes” vote had to be discounted.
And not all of the ballots received had countable votes. In one instance, one resident had sent in one ballot with a “yes” vote, and another with a “no.” Both ballots were discounted.
In another instance, an envelope was completely empty.
“That was probably in protest,” Nelson said. “There’s people who feel strongly about not changing the declaration. It’s like making amendments to the U.S. Constitution. There’s people who feel it’s a bad idea just on principle.”
Because of the controversy surrounding the vote, Florentine Estates worked to ensure that the vote count was open to the public and transparent.
As for the voting process itself, residents sent their votes in via a sealed envelope which did have the resident’s lot number written on it. This allowed the vote counters to record who voted, but it did not show who voted for what. Instead, the vote counters discarded the envelopes without looking at the ballots, tossing the envelopes aside and placing the ballots in a bin, unorganized.
Once the ballots were removed from the envelops, the number of ballots were counted, and work began on recording the votes.
There were two teams of two vote counters at work. One would read off the results of the ballot while the other would record the vote. When one count was done, the ballots were switched between the two teams, who again counted the same votes.
There was a snag in the process when both team’s votes didn’t match.
“One group had 45 and 5, the other group had 44 and 6,” Nelson said. “If they don’t match, we have to recount everything all over again.”
So, the votes were recounted until both sets matched. The process took three hours in total.
Once completed, the Siuslaw News was allowed to view the ballots and procedures used in the vote to authenticate the final tally was accurate and that the process was fair.