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10 Common Questions about Voting

In the world of organizational meetings, taking a vote seems easy… until it isn’t. When a topic is controversial or a vote result is close, knowing the rules on who can vote when, and how to take and count a vote can make a big difference. Today’s post is a Q&A that covers common voting questions.

1. May the Chair vote? 

Yes. But only under the following circumstances: (1) when the Chair’s vote is a secret, or (2) when the Chair’s vote would change the result. Impartiality is essential to the role of a Chairperson, so she may vote only if no one will know how she voted—i.e., via a secret ballot—or, to create or break a tie.

Also, the rules are different for the Chair of a committee or small board. (Small in this context means right around 12 members.) In that setting, the Chair may always vote. 

2. Is an abstention a “no” vote? 

No. An abstention is simply a decision not to vote. So, if a majority of the votes cast is required for the adoption of a motion, a member who abstains is not counted in the number of total votes cast.

Here’s an example to help you do the math: If 10 members attend a meeting, and only 8 cast a vote on a specific motion, according to the definition of a majority of votes cast, the number of votes needed for adoption of the motion is at least 5. The 2 members who abstained—the 2 who did not vote—are not counted when you determine the majority needed or when you calculate whether the motion is adopted. 

3. May a member change his vote? 

Yes. In general, it’s a timing thing. A member may change his vote at any time before the Chair announces the result. But if the vote was taken by secret ballot or any other secret method, a member may not change his vote. Also, after the Chair announces the result, a member may change his vote only if the group that is meeting unanimously agrees to let him do it. And that type of request must be made immediately after the Chair announces the result—basically before any other member starts speaking on a different topic. 

4. Is a tied vote a winning vote? 

No. Sorry—a tie vote is a losing vote. Adoption of an action requires the agreement of at least a majority or two-thirds of the members, depending on your group’s bylaws and the type of action. 

5. Can a member vote if she is not present? 

No. A member must be present to vote unless state law or the organization’s bylaws allow absentee voting or proxy voting.

6. Should the exact number of votes be counted and recorded?

No. In general, you can save yourself the time and trouble. Just record whether the motion passed or not, or who won the election.

But there are 3 times when the exact number of votes in favor or against a proposal should be counted:

  • if your bylaws require it
  • if the members request it by a majority vote
  • or if the Chair decides she needs a count to accurately determine the result of the vote. 

7. Can a member cast more than one vote? 

No. Each member is entitled to one vote only unless state law or the bylaws allow proxy voting. Even then, it’s still really only one vote per person: a member casting proxy votes casts one vote for himself and one vote for each member for whom he is holding a proxy. 

8. Can the result of a vote be challenged? 

Yes. If a member thinks that the Chair has made a mistake in announcing the result of a voice vote, he can demand that the vote be retaken by a different method—e.g., raised hand or standing—but he must do so immediately after the Chair announces the result.

A member can also request a recount of a counted vote. For a recount to occur, it must be requested at the same meeting where the vote was first taken, or at the next regular meeting, and the body must agree to the recount by a majority vote. 

9. How is a two-thirds vote calculated? 

Here’s the easiest way to calculate a two-thirds vote: multiply the base number from which two-thirds will be calculated—e.g., total votes cast, or total members present, or entire membership—times 2 and then divide the result by 3, and then round up. That’s the minimum number of votes you need for a proposal to be adopted.

Let’s do some math again: If your bylaws say, “two‑thirds of the members present and voting must vote in favor of an amendment to the bylaws for it to be adopted,” and 160 members attend the meeting and vote…

  • multiply 160 times 2, which equals 320;
  • then divide 320 by 3, which equals 106.7;
  • then round up to 107;
  • you will need at least 107 votes in favor for the amendment to be adopted. 

10. Is a member entitled to cast a secret vote?

No. A member doesn’t get to cast a secret vote unless the bylaws require a certain type of vote to be taken by ballot (e.g., elections), or unless the members have taken a separate vote and decided that ballots should be the method of voting for a specific motion.

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