Question: Is an abstention a nay vote?

Our PTO board is about to vote on a very important issue. Some members are uncomfortable about this vote and are choosing to abstain. There’s nothing in our bylaws about abstaining. One member thinks that if you abstain from voting, that is a nay vote. I think if you choose to abstain, you are not part of the vote. Who’s right?

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

Technically, you are right. According to Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, abstentions aren’t counted when you calculate votes. When a ballot is marked “abstain” it is considered a blank. Note the term “abstention votes” is an oxymoron. An abstention is a refusal to vote. As a consequence, there can be no such thing as an “abstention vote.”

Elly thinks that it’s important to mention that there is one case in which abstentions have the effect of counting as nay votes. That’s when a majority of the entire membership is required to pass an item. For parent groups, this is most likely to apply at board meetings. If you have seven board members, your bylaws might require a majority of the entire board to approve an item, to avoid having important changes made by a vote of 2-1, say, when several people aren’t present. For example, if three vote in favor of a motion, three vote against it, and one abstains, the abstention is effectively a no vote—preventing the motion from obtaining the required four votes.

Still, this is a limited application, and in the vast majority of cases involving parent groups, an abstention is not counted as a vote.

Community Advice

joannmbrown writes:
Meeting minute rules require that those abstaining from voting be named. Are those voting against also to be named in the minutes?

Community Advice

joannmbrown writes:
All you did was repeat my question. What's the answer????

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