The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise

58 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2009

See all articles by Lucian A. Bebchuk

Lucian A. Bebchuk

Harvard Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)


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.

The paper, which is based on the Raben Lecture in Corporate Law at Yale and the Uri and Caroline Bauer Lecture at Cardozo, is scheduled to appear in May 2007 in the Virginia Law Review together with responses to it by Martin Lipton and William Savitt, Jonathan Macey, John Olson, Lynn Stout, and E. Norman Veasey.

Keywords: Corporate governance, directors, boards, shareholders, shareholder rights, shareholder voting, shareholder franchise, corporate elections, corporate ballot, proxy fights, proxy contests, access to the ballot, staggered boards, confidential voting, majority voting, bylaws, entrenchment, myopia

JEL Classification: D70, G30, G32, G34, G38, K22

Suggested Citation

Bebchuk, Lucian A., The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise. Virginia Law Review, Vol. 93, No. 3, pp. 675-732, 2007, Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 567, October 2005, Available at SSRN:

Lucian A. Bebchuk (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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United States
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European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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