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Investing

Shareholders Unite Online

The Web makes it easier for investors to have a say.

'Tis the season for proxies to pile up in your mailbox. Individual investors own about 30% of corporate stock outstanding, but only about one-fourth of them vote. But just as the Internet made its mark on the 2008 political elections, so too is it changing corporate governance -- starting with a grass-roots, online get-out-the-vote campaign.

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John Marcoux, a 51-year-old robotics engineer from Auburn Hills, Mich., thinks it's about time: "People are realizing that their voices do count, that they should take the time to understand the issues and make themselves heard."

He found his voice in online forums with other shareholders of On2 Technologies, fighting a takeover bid by Google that they thought was too low. The marshaled forces cast their votes on MoxyVote.com, a Web site launched last November that directs investors to upcoming ballots and makes it easy to vote online. Shareholder advocates can also register on the site to promote their views. The On2 dissidents succeeded in blocking the Google takeover twice, leading to a higher offer. Shareholders okayed the deal in February.

Other sites that are springing up in the online shareholder republic: ProxyDemocracy.com, which tracks proxy votes cast by institutional investors, including most major fund companies, and Share-owners.org, which aims to educate investors on shareholder rights and corporate-governance issues.

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