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Q: Robert's Rules on Abstaining ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Robert's Rules on Abstaining
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: gizmogal-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 21 Feb 2004 12:35 PST
Expires: 22 Mar 2004 12:35 PST
Question ID: 309253
At a recent meeting of a governing body of a club I belong to, a
motion was made and properly seconded. Three people voted in favor. 7
people voted as abstained. No one voted against the motion.  Yet the
motion was considered carried, in spite of a 3-0-7 yea vote.

My Q:  Should the motion have passed?  I believe Roberts Rules says an
abstention is a NO and counts as such. Yet the Chair ruled in this
case that the majority (in favor) won as he counted all the
abstentions as agreeing with the actual "yeas".

 What if the vote was 3 in favor, 3 opposed and 5 abstained. Is this
really a tie, that the chair would have to resolve with his/her vote?

Can you find the citation for  Robert's that will help me see how
abstentions? work?

Subject: Re: Robert's Rules on Abstaining
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 21 Feb 2004 13:12 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Wendy,

Thank you for your question.

Searching for your answer I first came across a page at Washington
University that notes:

"A Majority Vote consists of over 50% YES's of all the YES and NO ballots counted.

EXAMPLE: A tie is not a majority.

EXAMPLE: 23 votes are yes, 21 votes are NO and 345 votes are ABSTAIN.
This is a majority and the motion passes."

So, it would seem that the abstained votes are not counted at all and
a 3-3-5 vote as you asked would indeed, be a tie.

The College of Denver notes on a page on Robert's Rules:

"...Abstentions do not count in tallying the vote; when members
abstain, they are in effect only attending the meeting to aid in
constituting a quorum..."

Interestingly, a discussion at the IEEE Organization addresses your
point of view in this message, but even agrees that Robert's does not
consider Abstains when deciding a vote:

"...That ruling stated that a majority of all ballots (including
ABSTAINS) must vote YES for a motion to pass.  For example, 3 YES, 2
NO, and 2 ABSTAIN would not pass, because out of 7 total votes, 4 must
be YES for it to pass. This directive applied only to the SUMO vote. 
There was talk and
perhaps intention to change IEEE voting rules, but no such
announcements or changes in policies & procedures came down.  To my
knowledge, none of the other ~400 IEEE standards groups are following
that ruling.  It remains common practice by IEEE groups to follow the
Roberts Rules of Order rule that ABSTAINS are not counted in the
ballot tally (i.e. 3 YES, 2 NO, 2 ABSTAIN would pass).  Based on this,
I believe the proper rules to follow are that of Roberts Rules of

And finally, at a page by the Municpal Technical Advisory Service:

"...Clearly, under Roberts? Rules of Order Newly Revised, section 4,
(page 44 in my version) a failure to cast a vote on a question is an

The chair should not ask for abstentions in taking a vote, since the
number of members who respond to such a call are meaningless. To
?abstain? means not to vote at all, and a member who makes no response
if ?abstentions? are called for abstains just as much as one who
responds to that effect..."

In fact, every page I could find that addresses this agrees that this
is standard procedure unless otherwise stated and agreed.

A page showing the original Robert's Rules from 1915 does say the
following which may be the cause of confusion:

"...While it is the duty of every member who has an opinion on the
question to express it by his vote, yet he cannot be compelled to do
so. He may prefer to abstain from voting, though he knows the effect
is the same as if he voted on the prevailing side..."

This is NOT saying that the vote is counted as an affirmative (nor a
negative), but that by abstaining, it is aiding the cause of the
prevailing vote.

Finally, at this page on Survival Tips of Roberts' Rules:

"...The basic requirement for adoption of a motion by any assembly
with a quorum is a Majority Vote, except for certain motions as listed
below. A Majority is 'more than half' of the votes cast by persons
legally entitled to vote, excluding blank votes and abstentions.
Majority does not mean 51%. In a situation with 1000 votes, Majority =
501 votes; but 51% = 510 votes.

Let's see an example:

The chair instructed the members, at a meeting with a quorum, to vote
by writing 'Yes' or 'No' on a piece of paper.

Of the members present, 100 were entitled to vote, but 15 did not cast
a ballot. Of the 85 votes cast: 75 were legal; 10 were illegal (the
members wrote 'Maybe'); and 4 were turned in blank (abstained).

The Majority is any number larger than one half of the total of ...
(legal votes cast) - (blank votes cast) + (illegal votes cast). 

Of the 85 Votes Cast by members entitled to vote ...
(75 were valid) - (4 were blank) + (10 were illegal) = 81 Votes Cast.

One half of 81 Votes Cast is 40 1/2. Majority was 41 votes...."

I hope this fully answers your question.

Search Strategy:

"roberts rules" +abstain
"roberts rules of order" +vote OR abstain

If a link above should fail to work or anything require further
explanation or research, please do post a Request for Clarification
prior to rating the answer and closing the question and I will be
pleased to assist further.


gizmogal-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
Call that a 7 star answer, though I'm only allowed to award 5 stars.
OK, so abstentions are not NO's but they aren't a Yes. either. they
don't count and therefor the majority has to be considered in order
for a vote to crry or be defeated. Wow. I thank you loads. Tip added.

Subject: Re: Robert's Rules on Abstaining
From: clouseau-ga on 21 Feb 2004 14:24 PST
My pleasure, Wendy.

Thank you for the rating and tip!



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