Our advice to our HOA clients is that we can and should open the outer envelopes (but not the secret ballot envelopes) in advance of the ballot-counting meeting. Dong so preserves voter anonymity and is not inconsistent with the statute. Civil Code 5120(a) states that “any ballot” shall not be opened prior to the meeting at which ballots are counted. In other words, the statute does not prohibit opening the outer envelope–only the ballot envelope.
Also, we believe that the letter and spirit of SB 323 are more consistent with separating the outer envelopes from the inner secret ballot envelopes in advance of the ballot-counting meeting in order to preserve voter anonymity. This is in contrast to opening both the outer and inner envelopes at the same time, which we believe defeats the purpose of the two-envelope system, which is to separate the ballot from any identifying voter information.
That being said, we are always happy to accommodate the wishes of our clients if they want both the outer and inner envelopes opened at the ballot-counting meeting.