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Guest Theresa H.

Abstain versus Recuse from Voting

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Guest Theresa H.

We have 5 board members and the Board President is planning to recuse herself from voting on an item.  This could result in a tie.  It is her understanding that if she abstains instead of recusing from the vote, that abstaining can be counted as a noe vote.  Is that true?  I thought that when you recuse yourself, it just means that you will not be voting or participating in any discussion.

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First off, RONR does not mention recusal at all.  It speaks only of abstaining.  A recusal is sometimes mandated by state or local law when a public official has a conflict in a particular matter.   But it is not even mentioned in RONR and is really outside the scope of this forum.

Does she plan to just abstain from voting or to recuse herself from all consideration of the matter?   To abstain means simply not to vote.  A recusal, though not defined in RONR,  is generally understood to mean that the member not only won't vote, but won't participate at all in the consideration of a motion.  Abstentions and recusals are not "no" votes.... They are not votes at all.  It is not counted either way.    You either vote or you don't vote. If you don't vote, you have abstained from voting.

Having a vote result in a tie is not a problem.  A motion fails on a tie vote.

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No, that is not correct.

"Recuse" is actually not a word that occurs in Robert's Rules. It is used in the legal world and other settings. But when it comes to voting, members always have the right not to vote if they so choose, which is called "abstaining." Voting results, unless your rules state otherwise, are of "those present and voting." So if a member abstains, the effect is only that one fewer votes is cast. 

In regards to a tie vote, since a majority of votes cast is required for the adoption of most motions, a motion resulting in a tie vote is not adopted. So if the vote is 2 in favor and 2 against on the matter in question, your president doesn't have to vote no in order for the motion to loose. Under Robert's Rules your president under most circumstances would have the right - at that point - to vote "yes" and give the motion a majority in favor of it if he or she wanted it to be adopted. But if it is desired that that it not be adopted, he or she should just not vote, and that would be the result. 

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Guest Frustrated Public Servant

Great discussion. So if a board member recuses himself from a vote it does not equal a "no" vote?

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Echoing the responses above, it makes no practical difference whether your Board president recuses herself or simply abstains.   It requires a majority vote to adopt so in either case if it is a tie vote the motion fails.  That ends the matter for Robert's Rules.  However, since you sign yourself "frustrated public servant", it appears you may be part of a public body.  There are often different rules for public bodies -- those are legal principles beyond the scope of this forum --  but generally speaking to abstain simply means you refrain from voting; you may have already debated, voted on amendments, moved to postpone, etc.  Not an issue.  You are still permitted to abstain on the final vote.  Recusing yourself means you do not participate in any way and for some bodies you may even be required to leave the room before the discussion even starts.   The rules for recusal, and its effects, depends upon the law of the jurisdiction and the nature and size of the body.  

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Guest Frustrated Public Servant

Thank you everyone. Too many years in public service and receiving poor advice from a revolving door of attorneys has taken its toll on me. Today we had 3 member board decide on  a very important issue. 2 members recused themselves leaving only 1 member to vote. Our attorney said the proceedings could continue but the 2 recusals would be considered “no” votes according to Roberts Rules of Order. Sigh...

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Guest Frustrated Public Servant

Thank you everyone. Too many years in the public sector and receiving questionable advice from a revolving door of attorneys has taken its toll on me.

We had a very important meeting today involving a 3 member board. 2 members recused themselves because they had business dealing with one of the parties.

Our attorney said that the proceedings could continue but according to Robert's Rules of Order the 2 recusals would be considered "no" votes so that the 3rd vote would not matter.

Well the sole remaining member voted "YES" anyway. Sigh...

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16 minutes ago, Guest Frustrated Public Servant said:

Thank you everyone. Too many years in public service and receiving poor advice from a revolving door of attorneys has taken its toll on me. Today we had 3 member board decide on  a very important issue. 2 members recused themselves leaving only 1 member to vote. Our attorney said the proceedings could continue but the 2 recusals would be considered “no” votes according to Roberts Rules of Order. Sigh...

While he's clearly wrong that they are "no" votes, as FAQ#6 that Mr. Martin referred you to notes, it is possible that the abstentions have the same effect as a no vote.  If a majority of the entire 3 member board is required to adopt a motion, 1 yes vote isn't going to cut it and the motion would fail.  So he may just be using imprecise language.

Edited by George Mervosh

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This is a good example of why it is important to understand the difference between abstention and recusal and to use the correct term.  Many people mistakenly use the terms synonymously. Recusal is a foreign concept to RONR; it is a legal principle -- thus, beyond the scope of this forum.  

For purposes of RONR there are two issues.  1) What is the vote required? 2) How many members are present?

Depending upon the state, the type of board, and the circumstances sometimes a recusal is equivalent to an abstention.  If that is the case, the result is pretty much as the responses above indicate.  But sometimes, a recusal means you are considered to be "not present".   If the vote required is  a majority of those present or a majority of those present and voting, and the two recusals are considered not present, under RONR a 1-0 vote succeeds unless there is some other rule that prevents that kind of result.

One should only "recuse" herself if the bylaws (or special rules of order) authorize  it or an applicable law or regulation provides for it.  You must also satisfy any necessary requirements for recusal. Frequently, people who think they have a conflict of interest will say they are recusing themselves.  But unless that conflict is of a type that is recognized for purposes of recusal, you are considered to be present and your "recusal" is actually just an abstention.

Admittedly this can be confusing.   We don't give legal advice here -- but for purposes of determining the correct application of RONR, you must first know whether your abstention or recusal, whichever term you use, is considered to be "not voting" or  "not present."  If the vote required is a majority of the board, 'not voting' is the equivalent of a 'no' if it prevents the board from attaining the required majority

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