Corporations as Voters?

February 26, 2013
Sabina Khan

If you’re part of the minority which hasn’t already found a flaw in the concept of corporations as people, Montana State Representative Steve Lavin (R) has given us all one more logical conundrum to ponder: He has proposed to give voting rights to Corporations who own property in a local jurisdiction.

Montana HB 486

“if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the President, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election…”

Representative Levin deserves the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully his intent was to call attention to the irony that is corporate personhood and the pitfalls that accompany the concept. If corporations are indeed people, they should be endowed with the same rights as every other American. Would it be just for a mature person to be denied the right to vote on their representation? No, it would not as proven by our own struggle for independence from Britain.

There are obviously flaws in the line of thinking regarding this proposal. In review of the Bill’s full language, no provisions were found that would prohibit “people” from casting 2 votes in a single election, e.g., Steve Lavin could vote twice for himself in the next midterm if he was selected to represent a corporation… once as a human citizen, and one more time as a corporate person. Is that fair? What if he owns multiple corporations? Should Walmart be allowed to vote in the thousands of cities their stores are located at? These are natural questions and perhaps some of the reasons why the Montana Legislative Committee tabled the bill almost immediately.

Another point of contention with HB 486 relates to the fact that since before WWII foreigners been barred from voting in local, state or Federal elections in the USA. This bill could potentially open a wide loophole in that policy since citizenship is not required to run a corporation in the US. As it is, foreigners are able to influence our elections since prohibitions on corporations’ ability to make direct expenditures were recently lifted by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United verdict. Now our elected officials are making moves that could give them the liberty to actually cast real votes as well.

Rep. Lavin has a strong history of corporate advocacy. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC), a group that pursued the interests of corporations, including voter suppression.

ThinkProgress reports that HB 486 was tabled when it was brought before a legislative committee, meaning it is unlikely to advance and become law. But the the measure is still clearly an alarming development.

If you would like to work to reverse the trend of corporate personhood, there are moves you can make. Of course you’re always wise to contact your own Legislators and voice concerns directly, but many people are joining together to boost their collective voice. Move to Amend proudly identifies with this tradition of engaged citizen participation and its petition to amend the constitution has been signed by 267,873 and counting:

Sabina Khan is a Communications Intern with Move to Amend. She is Master's graduate in Conflict Resolution from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.