Constitutions, Bylaws and Charters

Should proxy voting be recognized in congregational business meetings?

Should proxy voting be recognized in congregational business meetings?

That was the issue before a New York state appeals court. A Jewish congregation called a special business meeting to determine whether or not to retain its rabbi. The congregation, by a vote of 23 to 21, voted to submit the dispute to a panel of 3 orthodox rabbis for a final decision. The minority challenged this vote on the ground that 4 proxy votes (which were not counted at the business meeting and which agreed with the minority) were improperly disregarded at the meeting. Had they been counted, the vote would have been 25 to 23 against submitting the dispute to an arbitration panel.

The court observed that the state "Religious Corporations Law" requires proxy voting only in a few instances not relevant to this case (e.g., voting to sell, mortgage, or lease property, and certain elections of officers), but that the state "Not-For-Profit Corporation Law" (which applies unless in conflict with the Religious Corporations Law) permits proxy voting unless prohibited by the corporation's charter or bylaws. The court found no conflict between these two provisions, and accordingly concluded that the Not-For-Profit Corporations Law applied—meaning that proxy voting should be permitted unless specifically prohibited by the corporation's charter or bylaws.

The court noted that the bylaws adopted "Robert's Rules or Order," and that section 44 of Robert's Rules of Order disallows proxy voting: "Proxy voting is not permitted in ordinary deliberative assemblies unless the laws of the state in which the society is incorporated require it, or the charter or bylaws of the organization provide for it.

Ordinarily, it should neither be allowed nor required, because proxy voting is incompatible with the essential characteristics of a deliberative assembly in which membership is individual, personal, and non-transferable."

The court concluded that this case perfectly illustrated the reason why proxy voting is discouraged: "IT is obvious from the tenor of the membership meeting … that the congregation was split almost evenly among those members who 'loved' [the rabbi] or 'disliked' him vociferously. Such a meeting, by its nature, would call for extensive deliberation. Who can tell how many congregants were swayed to vote one way or the other based upon the arguments presented at the meeting?" Frankel v. Kissena Jewish Center, 544 N.Y.S.2d 955 (1989).

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