Staggered elections

Staggered elections are elections where only some of the places in an elected body are up for election at the same time. For example, United States Senators have a six-year term, but they are not all elected at the same time. Rather, elections are held every two years for one-third of Senate seats.

Staggered elections have the effect of limiting control of a representative body by the body being represented, but can also minimize the impact of cumulative voting.[1] Many companies use staggered elections as a tool to prevent takeover attempts. Some legislative bodies (most commonly upper houses) use staggered elections, as do some public bodies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Application in business

A staggered board of directors or classified board is a prominent practice in US corporate law governing the board of directors of a company, corporation, or other organization, in which only a fraction (often one third) of the members of the board of directors is elected each time instead of en masse (where all directors have one-year terms). Each group of directors falls within a specified "class"—e.g., Class I, Class II, etc.—hence the use of the term "classified" board.[2] The work of the Shareholder Rights Project has had a significant effect on the number of classified boards on the S&P 500.[3]:159

In publicly held companies, staggered boards have the effect of making hostile takeover attempts more difficult; however, they are also associated with lower firm value.[4]:10 When a board is staggered, hostile bidders must win more than one proxy fight at successive shareholder meetings in order to exercise control of the target firm. Particularly in combination with a poison pill, a staggered board that cannot be dismantled or evaded is one of the most potent takeover defenses available to U.S. companies.[5]

In corporate cumulative voting systems, staggering has two basic effects: it makes it more difficult for a minority group to get directors elected, as the fewer directorships up for election requires a larger percent of the equity to win; and it makes takeover attempts less likely to succeed as it is harder to vote in a majority of new directors.[6] Staggering may also however serve a more beneficial purpose, that is provide "institutional memory" — continuity in the board of directors — which may be significant for corporations with long-range projects and plans.[6]

Institutional shareholders are increasingly calling for an end to staggered boards of directors—also called "declassifying" the boards. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2007 that 2006 marked a key switch in the trend toward declassification or annual votes on all directors: more than half (55%) of the S&P 500 companies have declassified boards, compared with 47% in 2005.[7]

Legislative bodies which use staggered elections



12 of the 24 provincial legislatures have staggered elections:

Three of Australia's five State Legislative Councils use staggered elections:

Local councils in Western Australia also have staggered elections.[8]

All six Legislative councils of states have staggered elections:

27 of the State Senates in the United States have staggered elections:[9]


Historical usage



See also

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