Who Should Vote?

I have an old, ratty t-shirt that says “Corporations are not people.” It dates back to the (in)famous exchange between a heckler and Mitt Romney, in which Romney–then the Republican candidate for President–proclaimed that “Corporations are people, my friend.” Needless to say, that declaration didn’t win him many votes. After all, corporations don’t vote.

At least, not in most places. Yet.

A reader of this blog recently sent me a CBS News article about a Delaware town planning to extend the franchise to “corporate citizens.”

Seaford, a town of about 8,000 on the Nanticoke River, amended its charter in April to allow businesses — including LLCs, corporations, trusts or partnerships — the right to vote in local elections. The law would go into effect once both houses of Delaware’s state legislature approve it.

The proposal has rekindled a debate over how much power corporations should have in local government, with fierce opposition from civic interest groups who say businesses already wield too much influence over politics.

“It was very shocking to see this attempt to have artificial entities have voting rights,” said Claire Snyder-Hall, executive director of Common Cause Delaware, a watchdog group.

Delaware is probably the most “corporate-friendly” state in the U.S., with business laws so favorable to the corporate form that the state boasts more than 1.8 million entities registered there. According to the linked article, companies outnumber human residents by nearly two-to-one.

This effort would seem to be the flip side of the widespread efforts to suppress the votes of human citizens. Whatever the merits  of the proposal (admittedly, I’m at a loss to identify those), allowing artificial persons to cast ballots would dilute the votes of actual people. I assume that’s the goal–giving the ballot to corporations would certainly tilt the playing field further in the direction of the communities’ business interests.

In all fairness, when human voters fail to show up at the polls, they bear considerable responsibility for their subsequent loss of voice. What’s that phrase? Use it or lose it…

Legislators have cast the change as a fix for low turnout in municipal elections and a way to attract business owners to the community.

“These are folks that have fully invested in their community with their money, with their time, with their sweat. We want them to have a voice if they choose to take it,” Seaford mayor David Genshaw told local station WRDE. Genshaw cast the deciding vote in a split City Council decision on the charter amendment in April, according to The Lever.

According to Delaware Online, there are 234 entities, including LLCs, trusts and corporations, headquartered in Seaford — a significant number for a town where an April election only garnered 340 votes.

It appears that other Delaware towns already allow corporations to vote, with results that might have been predicted:

In 2019, it was revealed that a single property manager who controlled multiple LLCs voted 31 times in a Newark, Delaware, town referendum, an incident that led Newark to amend its rules. And residents in Rehoboth Beach in 2017 beat back a proposal to allow LLCs to vote.

Delaware has long been noted for being “corporation friendly,” but until I read this particular news item, I didn’t realize just how friendly. The state allows owners of LLCs to stay anonymous. It relieves businesses of the “burden” of paying corporate income taxes. And as every business lawyer knows, the vast majority of corporations headquartered in Delaware– including two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies– don’t have a physical presence there.

American laws do consider corporations “people” for certain very specific purposes–doing business in the corporate form encourages economic activity that benefits us all. If you start a business and it goes broke, your personal assets can be protected from the business’ creditors. Without that protection, many fewer businesses would be formed. And–giving Romney credit for what he evidently meant in that infamous exchange–corporations are indeed formed, managed and owned by real people.

But in a society where the economic gap between the haves and the have-nots is uncomfortably large and continuing to grow–a country where legal structures already favor those with money and status– giving the already-privileged an extra tool to cement and augment their already significant advantages doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea.

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States begins with “We the People.” I’m pretty sure the Founders didn’t intend that “people” reference to include corporations.

 

 

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Who Should Vote?

  1. The rich and powerful right wing is very inventive in find new ways to cement their power and control. This is nuts.

  2. I noticed in recent years that, during public comment periods at local meetings, folks would identify themselves as “business owners” when they couldn’t say that they were “voters”. Many thought this “identifier” would matter because they paid taxes. Thankfully they were often ignored – especially when their business interest was a detriment to the local citizenry – but imagine if this Delaware idea become idea AND popular… I doubt courts would sanction this… well the Supreme Court probably would roll with it.

  3. So what’s to stop an ambitious corporate entity from “cloning itself” by registering hundreds, or thousands, of paper subsidiaries in order to swamp the local ballot box with their “votes” and take over the local govt?

  4. It’s upsetting to see how quickly we, as a society, seem to be sprinting towards any number of dystopian futures. Someone should remind the powers in charge that Handmaid’s Tale, Judge Dredd, the entire Cyberpunk genre, and all the others were not intended to be manuals or goals.

  5. Great Sheila.
    Oh and don’t forget that Corps and LLC, while given right as human entities, do not have the same responsibilities and accountabilities as do breathing, bloodied bodied humans. The law seems to be swayed to their side. And owners and corp. directors and policy makers are also not liable. A rigged system against individuals for sure

  6. lets see em (corps/person) vote for a natl, holiday to vote.
    opps, dont wanna start that. corps (persons)dont like it when the working class gets something for free, and allows their (corps)cash flow to be interupted. no matter how hard I tried to
    figure how a piece of paper that allows a group of investors to gather as a lawful enity to
    become protected by law from suits, etc. have the right as a human to vote is beyond me. that legal jargon has its merits at times,in this issue, there NFW a corp (piece of paper) has two legs and carries its own ass down to stand in line and vote. every less educated person(say working class) i have had this conversation with,no matter the shade, does not see how a corp is human,and can vote.
    seems like the rightwing est. own words of voter fraud.

  7. It should come a \s no surprise that the Mayor of Seaford, De. is a Republican.
    And, it turns out, it is reported that there are other towns in De. that allow corporate voting.
    America, Land of the Rich and home of the rigged.

  8. It all reminds me of “Robocop” the governments in that film were corporations. We might be heading there. It isn’t science and it isn’t fiction, but it certainly is dystopian!

  9. Last time I looked, there was a sitting US President from Delaware. He has said nada about this. That says it all about the DEMs.

  10. I have known for many years that Delaware is the most corporate-friendly state in the country and that many of the “home offices” of large corporations located there have only a a phone, an internet connection, an address and a clerk or clerks for service of process. Home office business is good business for the state and local communities; it brings no noise and semis to town, only well paid help who quietly go about their business and contribute to the local economy.

    I read an article a few years ago that told of competition for home offices among states that are trying to horn in on Delaware’s virtual monopoly, notably Oklahoma. Its legislature has adopted new corporate legislation almost as weak as that of Delaware. Unlike most legislation, competitors for corporate home offices are in a perpetual race for the bottom. Corporate regulation? What’s that?

    Corporate voting? That’s a built-in slippery slope down the road in terms of allocation of power, since corporations already vote big time via Super PACs and other such devices and need no more power or access to power if we are to remain a democracy – so I vote no. We need neither share our vote nor our sovereignty in the search for business. . .

  11. Lester. So President Biden (who has a few other things on his plate) hasn’t yet commented on a crack-brained proposal in Delaware and that “says it all about the DEMs.” Really? That is ridiculous hyperbole. If he did comment the wrong wing would be all over him for using his office to meddle in state affairs.

  12. Sharon,

    WADR – read the blog a bit more carefully – it is not a proposal to start; it is a proposal to expand. Since when is voting only a “state affair”? That’s EXACTLY what the current SCOTUS ruled about gerrymandering.

  13. Lester. You read the blog more carefully. The word isn’t expand. It is extend, meaning to give corporations the right to vote which they do not currently have. Also, it is the wrong wing’s position, not mine, that states should exert total control over voting. I was predicting what they would say, not what I believe. But my more important point is that picking out one small thing and claiming that it “says it all about the DEMs” is ridiculous hyperbole.

  14. How is it legal for a corporation to cast a ballot? It just seems nonsensical to me. If a person is voting on behalf of a corporation, do they get to vote a second time for themselves? I did see the part above about the manager voting 31 times. But what if they just want to vote once for one corporation and once for themselves? Do they have to give up their own vote to do so? Just doesn’t make any sense to me.

  15. Corporations were legal fictions that existed at the sufferance of the State. Now we will finally have it properly flipped with the State being a legal fiction that operates at the sufferance of the corporations.

    This also represents how the “competition between the states” in our “marketplace of ideas” can lead to a race to the bottom.

    Felix had it right. First, corporate lawyers will make a small fortune handling the incorporation of ton of shell companies. Next, the corporations will save a bundle. Before, politicians would need to be bought every year. With control of the ballot box, it is buy once, use many times, or face an immediate recall election where the outcome is predetermined.

    Maybe billionaires will start competing with each other – instead of bigger yachts, it will be bigger towns and cities.

  16. Jack,

    We just had a national holiday on a Tuesday. Want to know what happened? About half the people took Monday off to have a long four day weekend. Many of them left town. That’s exactly what would happen if you made election day (Tuesday) a holiday. The number of people who can’t make it to the polls b/c they are working is a miniscule number. A much bigger number are the people who would take a four day weekend, leave town, and not make it to the polls on Election Day.

    Also, I used to work in state government. State employees have election day off. I was active in politics and tried to recruit my fellow state and local government workers to work the polls since they had the day off. 90% of the time people said they didn’t want to give up their “vacation” to work the polls.

    Early voting is a much better idea than making Election Day a holiday.

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