How do Shareholders Vote? How You Can Vote for Sustainability

This is Part 2 of a two-part series about shareholder activism in honor of it being Shareholder Meeting Season. This is the Season when corporations hold their annual meetings. During these meetings or via proxy voting, shareholders vote to approve or reject directors for the board, internal proposals, and external shareholder proposals.

Shareholder voting

My inbox is filled with emails whose subjects yell “Vote now!” No, we haven’t time warped to the November presidential election. It is the time of year for corporate annual meetings, which are typically held between April and June. Therefore, it is also the time of the year for shareholder voting and shareholder advocacy. How do shareholders vote?

When you invest in a share, or stock, in a corporation, you become a part owner. As part owner, you have the right to vote in the annual meeting. You also have the right to help shape the corporation into a sustainable corporation.

Shareholder Resolutions

Shareholders resolutions, or shareholder proposals, may be introduced by shareholders who meet certain criteria. These resolutions provide shareholders with a way to create change within or for the corporation. 

An example of a 2019 shareholder resolution, to voted on at the 2020 annual meeting, is a resolution for American Express:

Shareholders request American Express report on the company’s global median gender/racial pay gap, including associated policy, reputational, competitive, and operational risks, and risks related to recruiting and retaining diverse talent…

Nearly 400 shareholder resolutions were filed in 2019. These resolutions will be voted on in 2020 annual meetings. Green America provides a comprehensive list of shareholders resolutions being voted on in 2020. Table 1 at the end of this article highlights certain resolutions being voted on in 2020.

How Do Shareholders vote?

If you own shares in a corporation, you should receive either a notification stating that it is time to vote in the annual election. Most shareholders vote via proxy voting. Proxy voting authorizes an agent to act on behalf of another party or provides a format that allows an investor to vote without being physically present at the meeting. Proxy voting can be done electronically, through the mail, or over the phone. 

The process to proxy vote electronically can be seen in Figure 1. Details for the steps that I, as a shareholder, follow to electronically proxy vote are provided below.

Figure 1: Process for electronic proxy voting at annual meeting
  1. My “Vote Now!” emails arrive in my inbox from my two brokers – Charles Schwab and COIN robo-advisor. I click the “Vote Now” button in the emails.
  2. I am routed from my emails to Proxy Vote. I enter the PIN provided to me by my broker.
  3. I read the proposals listed on the Proxy Voting webpage for the relevant corporation annual meeting. The proposals include proposals presented by the corporation and shareholder proposals. 
  4. Voting time! For the proposals, I select one of the three voting options:
    1. For 
    2. Against
    3. Abstain.
  5. Hit submit and I’m done. Electronic proxy voting takes less than 5 minutes. It allows me to play my role in helping to shape the corporation into the sustainable corporation that I want it to be.

Additional tips

The Proxy Voting webpage also provides links to voting instructions, the proxy statement, and the corporation’s annual report. The proxy statement provides details about the proposals, if any of the summarized proposals are unclear.

I have to admit a dirty secret – I do not take the time to research and vote for every proposal. I do research and vote on the shareholder proposals. Anything that I do not vote on will be registered as the vote that the corporation recommends.

Conclusion

That’s the simple 5 step process for proxy voting electronically for a corporation annual meeting. To read more, check out the As You Sow’s comprehensive shareholder voting resources.

Examples of 2019 shareholder resolutions

Table 1 list examples of resolutions being voted on by shareholders in 2020.

CompanyIssue
ChevronCut GHG emissions in line with Paris Agreement
ChevronReport on plans to cut carbon footprint in line with Paris Agreement
Home DepotReport on energy efficiency/renewable energy goals
SouthernReport on stranded carbon asset risks
United Parcel ServiceReport on Paris-compliant plan to cut carbon footprint
Amazon.comReport on gender/minority pay disparity
Amazon.comReport on accident prevention efforts
TeslaReport on mandatory arbitration which weakens protections for workers and consumers
United TechnologiesReport on the impacts of plant closure
Home DepotReport on Equal Employment Opportunity & Affirmative Action
JPMorgan ChaseReport on diversity programs
T-Mobile USReport on board diversity
Table 1: Shareholder Resolutions Examples. Source: Green America
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