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Recusal vs. Abstention


Guest Sam B.
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Does Robert's Rules address the use of recusals?

I've read where, within Robert's Rules, if a board member has a conflict of interest, they may simply abstain from the vote. But I've also read that - perhaps outside of Robert's Rules - the appropriate action would be recusal, where the board member with the conflict should actually remove him/herself from the room while the discussion takes place and until the vote is taken.

In the case I witnessed, it was a Texas county commissioners court on a vote to acquire property for a county building. One commissioner abstained because he "owns property nearby". Some think he should have recused himself, but I haven't found that in Robert's Rules. This county has adopted Robert's Rules.

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Ok, let me be more specific: Does Robert's Rules address recusals at all?

The point of a recusal is to remove a member's influence from the discussions. Taking part in the discussion is exerting an influence, but influence can also be exerted by mere presence while discussions are taking place.

So, if Robert's Rules addresses recusal (which I have not been able to find that it does), I would be keenly interested in how its treated.

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Ok, let me be more specific: Does Robert's Rules address recusals at all?

The point of a recusal is to remove a member's influence from the discussions. Taking part in the discussion is exerting an influence, but influence can also be exerted by mere presence while discussions are taking place.

So, if Robert's Rules addresses recusal (which I have not been able to find that it does), I would be keenly interested in how its treated.

Page 407(l. 21 - 31):

"ABSTAINING FROM VOTING ON A QUESTION OF DIRECT PERSONAL INTEREST. No member should vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the organization. For example, if a motion proposes that the organization enter into a contract with a commercial firm of which a member of the organization is an officer and from which contract he would derive personal pecuniary profit, the member should abstain from voting on the motion. However, no member can be compelled to refrain from voting in such circumstances."

So all it says is that they should abstain. It doesn't say they must or they shall, abstain.

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So all it says is that they should abstain. It doesn't say they must or they shall, abstain.

Nor does it say they should (or must) leave the meeting hall or refrain from entering into debate.

Ok, let me be more specific: Does Robert's Rules address recusals at all?

No, not beyond the cited reference to abstaining.

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  • 1 month later...

I don't see that the original question has been answered, i.e., the difference between abstaining from the vote vs recusing oneself from the vote.

Abstaining means that the member chooses not to vote on the question but still might participate in its consideration (speaking in debate, moving to amend the motion, etc). The usual understanding of what it means to recuse oneself (though RONR doesn't define the term) is that the member doesn't participate in the consideration of the question and doesn't vote on it.

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  • 5 years later...
On ‎7‎/‎13‎/‎2012 at 2:14 PM, Chris Harrison said:

Abstaining means that the member chooses not to vote on the question but still might participate in its consideration (speaking in debate, moving to amend the motion, etc). The usual understanding of what it means to recuse oneself (though RONR doesn't define the term) is that the member doesn't participate in the consideration of the question and doesn't vote on it.

Chris Harrison - I was told today that if abstaining, then the person abstaining is excluded from participation in the topic's consideration (activities you mention are allowed).  Is that something inferred by the segmentation between the process of debate and process of voting or is there something within Robert's Rules that helps provide clarity?  I need some help in providing an alternate view since I was dressed down severely by the President in front of the assembly.

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RONR defines abstaining as simply not voting. There is nothing in RONR to indicate that a person who abstains from voting must also refrain from participating in the debate.

Recusal is a term more often associated with public bodies, and state law or a local rule might require a member with a conflict of interest or a personal interest in the subject matter to recuse himself. This is outside of RONR, but I agree with Mr. Harrison that to recuse oneself from consideration of a measure usually means to not participate in its consideration at all. That is something that might be defined by your state law or local ordinances or rules if the assembly is a public body. It is not addressed in RONR.

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43 minutes ago, Guest Guest Lori S said:

Chris Harrison - I was told today that if abstaining, then the person abstaining is excluded from participation in the topic's consideration (activities you mention are allowed).  Is that something inferred by the segmentation between the process of debate and process of voting or is there something within Robert's Rules that helps provide clarity?  I need some help in providing an alternate view since I was dressed down severely by the President in front of the assembly.

Whoever told you that is simply wrong. 

Abstaining means only abstaining from voting, and nothing more.  For one thing, someone may participate fully in debate, and then decide to abstain based on what was said during debate.  On a voice vote, or rising vote, simply answering to neither side constitutes abstaining.  On a ballot vote one may "cast" a blank ballot, so it is entirely possible, even likely, to abstain without anyone ever noticing, even after participating fully in debate. 

Abstentions should not be called for, counted, or recorded (except in rare cases).  They are essentially a non-event.

The President owes  you a public apology.

Edited by Gary Novosielski
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1 hour ago, Guest Guest Lori S said:

Chris Harrison - I was told today that if abstaining, then the person abstaining is excluded from participation in the topic's consideration (activities you mention are allowed).  Is that something inferred by the segmentation between the process of debate and process of voting or is there something within Robert's Rules that helps provide clarity?  I need some help in providing an alternate view since I was dressed down severely by the President in front of the assembly.

You were told wrong, and RONR already provides plenty of clarity on this issue.

“To "abstain" means not to vote at all” (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 45)

“A member of an assembly, in the parliamentary sense, as mentioned above, is a person entitled to full participation in its proceedings, that is, as explained in 3 and 4, the right to attend meetings, to make motions, to speak in debate, and to vote. No member can be individually deprived of these basic rights of membership—or of any basic rights concomitant to them, such as the right to make nominations or to give previous notice of a motion—except through disciplinary proceedings.” (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 3)

If the President continues to insist that members who abstain are excluded from speaking in debate or moving to amend the motion, you need a new President. See FAQ #20.

 

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