The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

565. Lucian A. Bebchuk, The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise, 11/2006; subsequently published in Virginia Law Review, Vol. 93, No. 3, May 2007, 675-732.

Abstract: 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 has been very low during the 1996-2005 decade. After presenting this evidence, this paper first 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, a company will have, at least every two years, elections with shareholder access to the corporate ballot, shareholder power to replace all directors, and reimbursement of campaign expenses for candidates who receive a sufficiently significant number of votes (for example, one-third of the votes cast); and will have secret ballot and majority voting in all 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 objections to the proposed reform of corporate elections, and I conclude that the case for such a reform is strong.

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