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joshuatownsend

"No" (Against) Vote in Ballot Election

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My organization has long allowed the use of a 'No' vote during a balloted election.  I question whether or not this is allowed by RONR but can't find anything explicitly prohibiting the practice.  In past elections, rather than voting for a candidate or abstaining, the 'No' vote has been used to try to prevent a candidate from being elected (especially in instances where there is only 1 nominee) that a portion of the voting members don't like/want.

Our bylaws define our elections rules as follows:

  • All elections for Officers/Directors be conducted by secret ballot.
  • A majority vote of the eligible voting class members present is required to elect all electable positions regardless of nominees for that position and the Secretary cannot cast a unanimous ballot.
  • 2 ballots must be cast before the President is required to break the tie for any office
  • Abstention ballots must be cast.
  • Abstention ballots shall not be counted in calculating this majority

My questions are:

  1. Are 'No/Against' votes allowed by RONR in a balloted election (citations?)
  2. If a 'No' vote is cast, how shall it be counted?  An abstention (as abstention ballots must be cast)?  Illegal/discarded vote?
  3. Considering my bylaws, can a 'No' vote actually do anything at all?  If the bylaws require a majority of all voting members present (not present AND voting), an abstention is really acting as a No vote.

Appreciate any insight - a long history of politics in the organization has left some odd practices, misunderstandings, and poorly worded bylaws that I'm trying to work through....

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I have no idea what is an "abstention ballot" or how one might go about casting one. These are your organization's bylaws, maybe you could tell us.

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37 minutes ago, joshuatownsend said:

Are 'No/Against' votes allowed by RONR in a balloted election (citations?)

No. See Official Interpretation 2006-18.

”In elections, "for" and "against" spaces or boxes should not be used. They are applicable only with respect to votes on motions. In an election, a voter can vote against one candidate only by voting for another who has been nominated or by writing in the name of another candidate.” (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 414)

41 minutes ago, joshuatownsend said:

If a 'No' vote is cast, how shall it be counted?  An abstention (as abstention ballots must be cast)?  Illegal/discarded vote?

It is counted as an abstention. Additionally, it should be noted that illegal votes are not discarded.

(The official interpretation does note that if members have been led to believe that such votes are permitted, then they must be credited, but members should be informed that such ballots are not proper, and that will resolve the issue.)

42 minutes ago, joshuatownsend said:

Considering my bylaws, can a 'No' vote actually do anything at all?  If the bylaws require a majority of all voting members present (not present AND voting), an abstention is really acting as a No vote.

I don’t know if that’s correct, since your bylaws also say that “Abstention ballots shall not be counted in calculating this majority,” but I suppose it is ultimately up to your organization to interpret its own bylaws.

It should be noted, however, that even if abstentions have the effect of preventing an election, all this is really accomplishing is to waste the assembly’s time. Electing no one is not an option. If no candidate is elected on the first ballot, another round of voting is held, and so on, until the election is completed. As a consequence, if members wish to prevent the election of the candidate(s) listed on the ballot, ultimately the only way to do so is to elect other candidates. If they have not yet found suitable candidates, then the members should move to postpone the election.

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16 minutes ago, Rob Elsman said:

I have no idea what is an "abstention ballot" or how one might go about casting one. These are your organization's bylaws, maybe you could tell us.

I wish I could tell you - I inherited these bylaws and nobody has been able to clearly explain them (yet it seems that some have been able to manipulate them in the past to get their way).  I suspect that a requirement to submit a ballot that said 'abstain' or was blank was required at one point to prevent election fraud (match the number of ballots collected to the number of voting members present).

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17 minutes ago, Josh Martin said:

No. See Official Interpretation 2006-18.

”In elections, "for" and "against" spaces or boxes should not be used. They are applicable only with respect to votes on motions. In an election, a voter can vote against one candidate only by voting for another who has been nominated or by writing in the name of another candidate.” (RONR, 11th ed., pg. 414)

It is counted as an abstention. Additionally, it should be noted that illegal votes are not discarded.

(The official interpretation does note that if members have been led to believe that such votes are permitted, then they must be credited, but members should be informed that such ballots are not proper, and that will resolve the issue.)

I don’t know if that’s correct, since your bylaws also say that “Abstention ballots shall not be counted in calculating this majority,” but I suppose it is ultimately up to your organization to interpret its own bylaws.

It should be noted, however, that even if abstentions have the effect of preventing an election, all this is really accomplishing is to waste the assembly’s time. Electing no one is not an option. If no candidate is elected on the first ballot, another round of voting is held, and so on, until the election is completed. As a consequence, if members wish to prevent the election of the candidate(s) listed on the ballot, ultimately the only way to do so is to elect other candidates. If they have not yet found suitable candidates, then the members should move to postpone the election.

Thanks, Josh - this is very helpful!

It seems that either the “Abstention ballots shall not be counted in calculating this majority” phrase either  1.) converts the "A majority vote of the eligible voting class members present" line in our bylaws to be a 'present and voting' clause or, 2.) is completely meaningless as submitting an abstention vote affirms that the member is indeed present and as such counts towards the majority of voting members present.  I see much wasted time and circular logic arguments in our future.

 

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You seem to be saying that " A majority vote of the eligible voting class members present" means the same as "a majority of those present." To quote Inigo Montoya: "I do not think it means what you think it means."

The language in your bylaws is open to interpretation. To be clearer, it should specify that it is a "majority of those present" or a "majority vote" (which does not require the extra wording that you currently have because it is defined in RONR as "more than half of the votes cast by persons entitled to vote, excluding blanks or abstentions, at a regular or properly called meeting" p.400, lines 10-12).

The line about abstention ballots not counting strongly suggests that the intent is a majority vote. This is because it is a Principle of Interpretation that nothing is placed in the bylaws without a reason and, as you noted, unless the intent is majority vote, then the lines about abstention would be meaningless. (pages 588-591, particularly p. 589, lines 4-7).

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3 hours ago, joshuatownsend said:

It seems that either the “Abstention ballots shall not be counted in calculating this majority” phrase either  1.) converts the "A majority vote of the eligible voting class members present" line in our bylaws to be a 'present and voting' clause or, 2.) is completely meaningless as submitting an abstention vote affirms that the member is indeed present and as such counts towards the majority of voting members present.  I see much wasted time and circular logic arguments in our future.

Yes, I think it is clear that the organization’s current rules on this subject are ambiguous and should be amended.

Edited by Josh Martin

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