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View Full Version : I abstained from a vote and everyone else voted yes. Is it unanimous?


tofergregg
05-03-2005, 12:03 AM
I am on a committee to suggest whom to hire as the new principal at my school. Tonight we voted, and everyone else voted "yes" to a certain candidate. I abstained from the vote, for a number of reasons. The committee chair showed us a draft of his report to the board of directors, and he listed the vote as "unanimous." Is this a correct statement? I abstained partially to show that the group I represent (the faculty, incidentally) is not particularly enthusiastic about the candidate in question (and I let the committee know this, of course), but that it seemed the choice we had to make.

Should I have voted no (and I wouldn't have had veto power, but there may have been more discussion even though we would have eventually come to the same conclusion to hire the candidate)? Should I ask the committee chair to at least mention that there was one abstention? Thanks!

-Tofer

hajario
05-03-2005, 12:18 AM
I always thought that "abstain" votes count in the total. You can do "no vote" and it won't count in the total. So I don't think it is unanimous.

Haj

Antigen
05-03-2005, 12:47 AM
In meetings I've attended, votes are always reported as "# for, # against, and # abstentions." I'm not sure if those are the "official" rules, but it's how I've always seen it done.

Gary T
05-03-2005, 12:57 AM
There's a zillion shades of gray here. Unanimous means all in agreement. It can be argued that you agreed with the selection, if reluctantly. If you disagreed, why didn't you vote against it?

Cunctator
05-03-2005, 01:58 AM
I'd agree with Antigen. Any minutes that I have seen have always said something like:

x for; y against; z abstentions

tofergregg - do the minutes include a summary of the discussion that took place prior to the vote? In a similar situation I would include a statement along the lines that "X, representing the faculty, stated that he would abstain from voting for the following reasons...."

Walloon
05-03-2005, 02:33 AM
The vote was both unanimous (of the votes cast), and had an abstention (a non-vote). The minutes should report both of those facts.

Askance
05-03-2005, 02:35 AM
Dictionary.com: "Based on or characterized by complete assent or agreement"
webster.com: "having the agreement and consent of all"

No, the vote was not unanimous as you did not agree.

zagloba
05-03-2005, 02:43 AM
I don't see any justification for calling the vote unanimous and the chair was wrong to do so. The chair apparently meant to imply that there was no dissension, which is clearly not true.

I think it is well within your rights to ask the chair to make the report state that you abstained. If he doesn't do so, I think it is within your rights to communicate your abstention to the board independently. If the committee report is public, tell the board publicly as well.

I share Gary T's puzzlement that you did not vote "no." I can't imagine any reason to abstain instead.

Walloon
05-03-2005, 02:51 AM
The Official Robert's Rules of Order Web Site (http://robertsrules.com/faq.html#6):The phrase "abstention votes" is an oxymoron, an abstention being a refusal to vote. To abstain means to refrain from voting, and, as a consequence, there can be no such thing as an "abstention vote."

In the usual situation, where either a majority vote or a two-thirds vote is required, abstentions have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the vote since what is required is either a majority or two thirds of the votes cast. On the other hand, if the vote required is a majority or two thirds of the members present, or a majority or two thirds of the entire membership, an abstention will have the same effect as a "no" vote. Even in such a case, however, an abstention is not a vote.(Emphasis added.) I would infer, then, that if abstentions have absolutely no effect on obtaining a majority or a two-thirds vote, they also have no effect on obtaining a unanimous vote. "Unanimous" means of votes cast, not of members present, unless the organization's by-laws specify otherwise.

Bearflag70
05-03-2005, 03:40 AM
The Official Robert's Rules of Order Web Site (http://robertsrules.com/faq.html#6):(Emphasis added.) I would infer, then, that if abstentions have absolutely no effect on obtaining a majority or a two-thirds vote, they also have no effect on obtaining a unanimous vote. "Unanimous" means of votes cast, not of members present, unless the organization's by-laws specify otherwise.

That's how I see it, too.

If 20 elligible voters are in the room, 2 vote aye, 0 vote no, 18 abstain.

It is unanimous of those present and voting.

Alessan
05-03-2005, 03:46 AM
It wasn't unanimous - it was unopposed. At least that's how I see it.

Malacandra
05-03-2005, 04:27 AM
The expression you're after is nem. con. or in full nemine contradicente - "nobody contradicting". "Unanimous" ought to mean "of one mind", i.e. everybody voted "yes".

Shalmanese
05-03-2005, 06:04 AM
The phrase "abstention votes" is an oxymoron, an abstention being a refusal to vote. To abstain means to refrain from voting, and, as a consequence, there can be no such thing as an "abstention vote."

In the usual situation, where either a majority vote or a two-thirds vote is required, abstentions have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the vote since what is required is either a majority or two thirds of the votes cast. On the other hand, if the vote required is a majority or two thirds of the members present, or a majority or two thirds of the entire membership, an abstention will have the same effect as a "no" vote. Even in such a case, however, an abstention is not a vote.



In the first case, an abstention gives you in effect a fractional vote. You can use it when you don't care what the outcome is and you don't want to bias the vote.

In the second case, abstention is the same as no.

Also, some committees might have rules that say a certain number of no votes automatically invalidate the result (1 in case of veto, 40% in case of filibuster). If you don't agree with a position but are prepared to go with what the group says, then absention is the right choice.

tofergregg
05-03-2005, 08:21 AM
Thanks for all the replies. I'll talk to the committee chair today and see how he phrased it for the final report.

If you don't agree with a position but are prepared to go with what the group says, then absention is the right choice.

That's what I was thinking. I didn't want to be a nay sayer, but at the same time I wanted to register my concerns. I did so in the discussion, and then I abstained from the vote.

-Tofer

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