What does it mean when a school board member abstains from voting on a motion? The abstention vote may have no effect, or a great effect whatsoever on the issue at hand. We break down what an abstention means, when it should happen, and how to record a school board abstention vote.
An abstention vote is simply a member’s decision not to vote on a motion. Technically, Roberts Rules of Order does not specify that you ask whether there are abstentions on a vote on a motion. In the case of a school board, however, recording abstentions may be necessary to indicate in the minutes that a quorum was present. To be clear, an abstention is not a vote for or against. It is an absence of voting at all.
A member may abstain from voting if the member believes he or she has a conflict of interest regarding the measure at hand. Here is an example. Suppose a school board is voting whether or not to hire a contractor to do work on the school grounds. The contractor happens to be related to one of the board members. To avoid any conflict of interest, that board member should abstain from voting and possibly even leave the room for the voting. In this case, school board voting abstention protects the integrity of the vote.
A member may choose to abstain if s/he believes that s/he is not well informed enough on the motion to make an informed judgment. The member may abstain because s/he does not want to reveal her/his opinion on the matter.
When voting on issues, it’s important to know how the bylaws and governing documents define a majority vote. Some bylaws define a majority based on the number of members present and voting at the meeting (as long as there is a quorum). Others may define a majority based on the membership of the entire board, whether or not they are in attendance. See the difference? If the basis for a majority is the number of members of the board, an abstention may have the same effect as a “no” vote.
Orientation for new school board members should include education on Robert’s Rules of Order. New board members should also be educated on the definition of “majority” for votes so that they understand the importance of attending meetings and being well informed. With enough information, your board members will know when a board member vote abstention is appropriate or not.
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