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So I understand that there are different type of voting rights for different classes of any security like one class can have 5 votes per share and other 1 vote per share. But I was just wondering if all classes have voting rights or some might have no rights at all. In case all common stocks have this right, and suppose I as small individual investor buy few ( say 50 ) shares of Microsoft. Through what procedure I can vote for the corporate decision of the company. Apologies if I sound foolish, I am novice in this field. Thanks.

  • Berkshire Hathaway is famous for having an A/B shares with way different voting rights. You have to look at each issue to figure out what rights (if any) it has. – zeta-band Jul 18 '18 at 16:29
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It is possible for common stock with no voting rights to be issued. Snapchat attracted attention because almost all of its common stock (Class A) has zero voting rights. Class B shares have one vote but were reserved for early investors and are not traded publicly --- and even those voting rights are measly compared to those of Class C shares, which have 10 votes each and are held exclusively by the two founders. (See article here.)

Having common stock with zero votes is unusual, and the article linked above suggests Snapchat may be the first company to do this (at least in their IPO). But as you note, it is fairly common for there to be different classes with widely differing voting rights (e.g., 10 to 1). If the share of votes held by the more privileged shares is large enough, the votes of the less privileged shares can be effectively useless.

It's also worth noting that this practice has been controversial, increasingly so in the past few years as large tech companies have pushed the envelope on skewing the voting rights of different share classes. Last year S&P announced that companies with multiple classes of shares will no longer be considered for inclusion in the S&P 500 index (although existing companies with such practices will not be kicked out).

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If you own shares with voting rights, then when when it comes time for the annual meeting then you have the right to vote those shares. In the vast majority of cases the individual stockholders will execute their voting rights through on online system. But those voting rights do also give you the right to attend the annual meeting at your own expenses. It is also possible that the company will limit the number of people who can attend.

I have owned shares of several companies over the years through the company 401Ks. Every year a month or two before the annual meeting I get a package that would describe the issues up for vote at the meeting. If I was not going to attend the meeting, I would record my votes on a form and mail it to a central location. Now this is done via a website, and the package it a single piece of paper with the URL to see all the issues.

Typically I am voting on the members of the Board of directors. Some companies stagger the terms, others don't. The package will give a biography of each member of the board. There are also votes on what company will perform the audit. There typically are votes on executive compensation. There can be votes on issues that other owners have petitioned the company to put to a vote. It can be things such as divesting from country X, or changing the way officers are compensated.

Occasionally there can be votes at special meetings. These can be to vote on a company split, a company merger, the company being purchased.

In some cases you can also authorize the decision on how to vote your shares to another person, this is called giving your proxy.

In cases where you own shares of a mutual fund or ETF, the fund can use the voting rights for those shares they own in the various companies.

  • Worth mentioning that while the private investor has equal rights, their contribution is usually irrelevant. Institutions, founders, ETFs, even employee plan custodians etc. own overwhelmingly more shares than your holding will ever represent. Enjoy the coffee and sandwiches at the AGM but don't expect your vote to count. – LoztInSpace Jul 19 '18 at 9:34
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    It counts. It always counts. It just might not move the needle very much. – mhoran_psprep Jul 19 '18 at 11:07

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