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Majority of "ballots cast" indicated in bylaws. How does this apply to a slatted ballot?


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Our organization's bylaws indicate that candidates must receive "a majority of the ballots cast" in order to be elected (those exact words). Our election is done with a slated ballot for multiple officer positions. In this case, can a candidate win with only a majority of votes counted for either of two candidates not including any abstentions in one of the officer positions when that number is less than 50% +1 of the total number of ballots cast with abstentions included?

Everything below this line is intended to clarify my question above and probably isn't necessary to read.

Given the language in our bylaws and that the ballot is slatted, does it make any difference if abstentions (a choice on the ballot added for each position) were the cause of the majority of votes cast for one of the positions being slightly lower than the majority of ballots cast? To clarify any answer people may offer, can abstentions for only one of the officer positions be omitted in the determining the number of "ballots cast" on a election of multiple officer positions in a slated ballot?

Edited by jggorman
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Abstaining is choosing not to vote. Since an abstention indicates no choice for any candidate, members who abstain have no effect on the results of a vote, at least a vote that is taken as defined in RONR - e.g., a majority of the votes cast by members eligible to vote - and in your bylaws as well (" a majority of the votes cast"). Your ballots should not include a line item labeled abstention - members can also abstain by not making any choice in that segment of the ballot, or even not submitting a ballot. When calculating the results of the vote, you do not count any ballot with no choice made - or in your case with the abstention line checked - as a vote cast, at least for that section of the ballot.

You should refer to RONR, 12th ed., 44:1 for the basis of a majority vote, and 45:31 to 45:41 for recording ballot votes.

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In particular, I think you will find 45:36 helpful where it says that each section of the ballot is treated as if it were a separate ballot Imagine cutting up a ballot containing multiple elections into each of its separate elections, then counting the ballots for each position's election separately. So an abstention in one section reduces the number of ballots cast for that section. But the number of ballots cast in each separate election are independent of each other.

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Thanks for answering this question both of you. Atul, what you indicated was especially helpful and made perfect sense to me when I reread that section. It stands to reason that a slatted ballot can and should be considered separately for each question or position. I guess I got caught up in the singular grammar of the word "ballot" and failed to recognize the relevance or meaning of the passage in Robert's Rules. Lesson learned, thanks to you both.

My first inclination BTW was differentiate "votes cast" with "ballots cast" as our bylaws indicates "ballots" and never once mentions votes. However, given the clarification that a slatted ballot is separable, Bruce's explanation is also clear that an abstention—even if indicated on a ballot—should not be counted as a "ballot cast" as it means to abstain from voting and should also be taken to mean abstaining from casting a ballot in this case. Part of what I am taking away from this is that votes cast and ballots cast essentially mean the same thing. So it makes no difference that our bylaws indicate "ballots cast," they might have as well said "votes cast."

Edited by jggorman
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Yes, Bruce has it. I am not sure where I saw the term, I spelled it incorrectly with two 't's and may have used the term erroneously. The word is used when several positions or questions are "slated on ballot" and of course used when referring to a "slate" of candidates running together.

Edited by jggorman
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On 11/7/2020 at 10:47 PM, jggorman said:

Yes, Bruce has it. I am not sure where I saw the term, I spelled it incorrectly with two 't's and may have used the term erroneously. The word is used when several positions or questions are "slated on ballot" and of course used when referring to a "slate" of candidates running together.

That's as may be, but it's not a practice condoned by RONR.  The word slate does not appear on any of its numerous pages.

It is perfectly fine to have a ballot with multiple sections for different offices, but there is no valid method to tie candidates together and vote on them as a group.

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Gary, these ballots have multiple positions like our state ballots do. There is nothing in them indicating a team of candidates. I realize that without considering our bylaws, Robert's Rules is clear. However, I am not sure I agree with comments made so far that a "ballot cast" is the same as a "vote cast" when plain language bylaws are considered. I have read Robert's Rules and in various places it speaks of a "ballot" as a thing that is submitted for the purpose of votes before these votes are known. At the time they are cast into a location, they are spoke of as a "ballot." Having a choice of abstention is as I have heard put "an oxymoron." Nevertheless, I am not sure that the inclusion of something like a choice of "Abstention" on a ballot renders it no longer a ballot, even if it is not a vote counted. It may still be a ballot cast as far as the writers of our bylaws intended. The words "abstention" or "votes" do not appear in our bylaws in our Article on our election process; only "ballots cast." While Robert's Rules are clear, they recognize repeatedly that an organization's documents supersede Robert's Rules. In fact, in our case, without the bylaws defining the majority as "ballots cast" a person could win with a single vote. All sorts of problems could arise. The possibility exists that the authors of our bylaws intended it to taken something like "all those voting and present" or simply "all those present." In my opinion, just because we made the mistake of going to an electronic election (not in our bylaws btw) and also making the mistake of allowing abstention as a choice on the ballot, does not necessarily mean we should invalidate our bylaws or assume that the authors meant "votes cast" when they wrote "ballots cast." Indeed, both terms were available for use and again "votes" never appears once in the entire article on elections. I think the best thing for us to do is to bring this to the body and vote on an interpretation of our bylaws and amend the bylaws as soon as possible for clarity.

Edited by jggorman
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8 hours ago, jggorman said:

In fact, in our case, without the bylaws defining the majority as "ballots cast" a person could win with a single vote.

This situation only arises if no other person votes for anyone for the office in question.

If people don't want to elect someone, they can vote for someone else.

9 hours ago, jggorman said:

The possibility exists that the authors of our bylaws intended it to taken something like "all those voting and present" or simply "all those present." In my opinion, just because we made the mistake of going to an electronic election (not in our bylaws btw) and also making the mistake of allowing abstention as a choice on the ballot, does not necessarily mean we should invalidate our bylaws or assume that the authors meant "votes cast" when they wrote "ballots cast." Indeed, both terms were available for use and again "votes" never appears once in the entire article on elections. I think the best thing for us to do is to bring this to the body and vote on an interpretation of our bylaws and amend the bylaws as soon as possible for clarity.

An organization may, if it wishes, adopt rules providing that a person must receive a majority of all ballots cast in order to be elected, including a ballot which is blank with respect to that particular position (or even a ballot which is entirely blank). It is certainly correct that it is ultimately up to your organization to interpret its own bylaws. The effect of such a provision will likely be that more elections will take multiple rounds of balloting.

It is certainly correct that the best method to resolve this is to amend the bylaws for clarity. In the interim, an interpretation regarding this matter will arise only if the different interpretations would affect the outcome of one or more elections. In such a case, the chair will apply their interpretation, and a member may raise a Point of Order if the member disagrees with this interpretation, followed by an Appeal if necessary. 

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