Proxy voting is a procedure that allows one person to authorize someone else to vote on his or her behalf. It is most commonly used by lawmakers in the legislative process, in elections, and in corporate shareholder meetings. This type of voting is recognized under a number of popular rules of order, including Riddick's Rules of Parliamentary Procedure™, but is prohibited under others, such as The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure™. Such rules are normally adopted by an organization at its inception.
In elected government, proxy voting is often used in the committee process to allow legislators to vote on bills and resolutions in absentia. Though specific rules often vary among governments and committees, generally, a legislator who expects to miss a committee vote must submit his proxy vote to the chairman or committee staff, in writing, prior to the vote taking place. A proxy vote does not count towards a committee's quorum, so there must be enough members present to establish a quorum before any such votes on a given question can be counted.
A number of countries around the world allow proxy voting in elections. It is commonly used by active-duty soldiers and other citizens who know they will not be present at election time to vote in person. Detractors claim, however, that it is also exploited as a way for males to vote for female relatives, and otherwise increases the likelihood of voter fraud. Though various jurisdictions in the United States have historically allowed it, it is currently prohibited under federal law. A similar but fundamentally different procedure, called absentee voting, is allowed.
In the corporate world, shareholders have a say in how a company is operated. Typically, votes are taken on various questions at an annual shareholder's meeting, and issues can range from the election of board members to allocating funds for charitable, non-business ventures. Generally, shareholders get one vote per share, though some special shares — such as preferred stock — count for more than one vote.
Many people own shares in a company headquartered, literally, on the other side of the world. As such, it can be impossible to actually attend a shareholder meeting. This is particularly true with those who own only a small number of shares in a company, and whose investment therefore does not warrant the expense of traveling.
Shareholders who are unable to personally attend a voting meeting, therefore, may submit proxy votes for their shares. This is usually done either by mailing in paper votes ahead of time, or increasingly, by voting online. Agendas and voting forms are usually sent to shareholders weeks in advance of a meeting, with instructions on how to participate. Shareholders who do not vote in person or by proxy are considered to be abstaining.