Practical Solutions To Improve The Proxy Voting System

On October 21, 2009 The Altman Group submitted a proposal to the SEC titled Practical Solutions To Improve The Proxy Voting System (available here).

Effective January 1, 2010 brokerage firms will no longer be able to vote for non-responding clients with regard to uncontested elections of directors as a result of the SEC’s recent approval of Amended NYSE Rule 452. Also, for many years corporations have complained about a lack of access to the names of all of their beneficial owners. Finding ways to deal effectively with these issues is now of significant importance to public companies of all sizes.

Our proposal to the SEC suggests certain reforms to the proxy voting system. Among the key issues which we propose the SEC take action on are the following 5 points:

  • 1. First and foremost, a new methodology called ABO (i.e., All Beneficial Owners) should replace the current NOBO/OBO mechanism which has existed for 25 years, at least with regard to record dates for annual or special meetings.
  • 2. The SEC should seek to authorize the establishment of a second mail and tabulation methodology, one that would give companies the ability (using the names available under ABO) to choose a different vendor to take responsibility for the mailing and tabulation process, while retaining the option to use the current Broadridge system. This new option would be akin to the way most companies currently use their transfer agent to mail and tabulate the votes of registered owners.
  • 3. The SEC should require the NYSE to implement as quickly as possible a robust investor education program to try and ameliorate at least some of the impact resulting from the loss of broker voting on non-contested director elections under Amended NYSE Rule 452.
  • 4. The SEC should amend Rule 13(f) so that information reported by institutions reflects both shares owned and also voting rights after taking into account loans and other transactions that alter such rights. We also suggest shortening the reporting period for 13(f) information to 15 days from 45 days after the end of a calendar quarter and reducing from 20 to 10 business days the pre-notification of a company’s annual meeting record date.
  • 5. The SEC should establish new procedures to deal with issues like “empty voting” and the use of derivative positions to alter voting rights.
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