May 2007, Volume 93, Issue 3|
The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise
93 Va. L. Rev. 675 (2007)
The power of shareholders to replace the board is a central element in the accepted theory of the modern public corporation with dispersed ownership. This power, however, is largely a myth. I document in this paper that the incidence of electoral challenges during the 1996–2005 decade was very low. After presenting this evidence, the paper analyzes why electoral challenges to directors are so rare, and then makes the case for arrangements that would provide shareholders with a viable power to remove directors. Under the proposed default arrangements, companies will have, at least every two years, elections with shareholder access to the corporate ballot, reimbursement of campaign expenses for candidates who receive a sufficiently significant number of votes (for example, one-third of the votes cast), and the opportunity to replace all the directors; companies will also have secret ballot and majority voting in all directors elections. Furthermore, opting out of default election arrangements through shareholder-approved bylaws should be facilitated, but boards should be constrained from adopting without shareholder approval bylaws that make director removal more difficult. Finally, I examine a wide range of possible objections to the proposed reform of corporate elections, and I conclude that they do not undermine the case for such a reform.
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