Monday, 6 June 2011

Anatomy of a ballot form

I still have a few Santander shares, ultimately dating back to the carpetbagging era and the sad demise of the Alliance & Leicester Building Society.

Recently I received my ballot paper for the forthcoming Santander AGM; and it represents a masterpiece of ballot design. There are twenty-five resolutions up for debate, with the self-explanatory names 1A to 12. I am supposed to reflect prayerfully on each, and then indicate whether I am in favour of the motion or against it. So far, so good: each resolution has a For box and an Against box to assist me in informing the General Secretary of the results of my twenty-five coin tosses.

For or against?

But wait! What if I'm unable to decide? Shouldn't I be allowed to abstain on some of the motions, and leave the decision to wiser heads? Should I just leave both boxes blank?

Careful: my eye catches sight of Note 1:
If you return the form and do not mark a box for an agenda item it shall be deemed that your vote is in favour of the Board proposal.
So a blank vote is the same as a vote in favour! One wonders why they need the For box at all. But back to the question: how can I abstain? Fret not: they've thought it through, and added a row of Abstain boxes below the For and Against boxes.

For or against or abstain? Or just leave it blank if you want to vote in favour.
That's a relief. Spurred on by the promise of "this fantastic credit/travel card wallet*" for returning my ballot paper,

*Stocks are limited.

I can now get down to the serious business of voting.

Hang on, though: what's that fourth row of boxes doing? Thoughts of that fantastic credit/travel card wallet can wait until I've sorted that out.

Should I tick the Blank box? Or just leave it blank?

So I can vote For, or vote Against, or Abstain, or leave it blank (which is the same as voting For), or I can vote Blank. That's the same as leaving it blank, right? So it's a vote in favour?

According to the By-laws of Santander, any proposal at the Annual General Meeting may be voted in favour, against or in blank. From a practical viewpoint, a vote in blank effectively works like an abstention.

So voting Blank is not the same as leaving it blank. "Voting in blank" (i.e., voting Blank) is the same as voting Abstain, whereas leaving it blank is the same as voting For. Got it. I can almost feel this fantastic credit/travel card wallet*

*Stocks are limited.

in my pocket.

But I needn't bother with filling in the paper at all: Santander, being efficient and eco-friendly, provide a means of voting online, and I, being married to a treehugger, feel compelled to take advantage.

The online voting web site offers many blessings unknown to the traditional voter. Not only does it provide effective protection against paper cuts, and the promise of a credit/travel card wallet every bit as fantastic as the one enjoyed by paper voters; the web site also fulfils its disability obligations by catering for those with split personality disorder. For each resolution, I can vote against myself by allocating some shares For, some Against, some to Abstain, and some Blank! Any unused shares will presumably be treated as blank (not Blank). No more worries about whether I did the right thing: I can hedge my bets and cancel myself out. Just a word of caution: remember that blank is the same as For, and Abstain is the same as Blank. So a truly agnostic vote doesn't allocate 1/5 of one's shares to each box: you want 1/6 of the votes For, 1/3 Against, 1/6 Abstain, 1/6 Blank, and 1/6 blank.

Maybe voting against myself is a little over the top. Let's hang the notion of voting against myself, and make a firm decision on each resolution. In which case I have twenty-five resolutions, and five options for each; so let's fill in the form like this:

That, according to the stated rules, is five resolutions marked For, five Against, five Abstain, five Blank(=Abstain), five blank(=For). So that's more positive than negative, but presumably the Board know roughly what they're doing, so maybe that's fair enough. I wouldn't want to be so spineless as to be overall neutral. Let's go ahead and cast the ballot.

And now the crowning irony. Here's the confirmation page:

D'oh! Your vote has been counted (errors and omissions excepted)...


  1. Did the credit/travel card wallet arrive?

  2. No, that's the really galling thing. I've been waiting for my fantastic credit/travel card wallet* for about three weeks now and there's still no sign of it. I feel duped.

    *Stocks are limited.