4 Things People Get Wrong About Voting

Regardless of whether you love decision-making, we live in a world that requires us to pick and choose. And in the world of organizational business, our choices are often made by a vote. Most of us do it often – we vote in official business meetings, on boards, as citizens. So, it’s easy to think you know the essentials. But Robert’s Rules has a lot to say about voting, and here are four common facts many people get wrong.

1. You cannot change your vote.

This is wrong. If you’re indecisive, take heart: You can change your mind and your vote – on your own and without anyone’s permission – until the point in time when the chair announces the result. (And you can even change it after that if you can get the membership to unanimously agree to let you do so – certainly a sizeable hurdle, but not impossible.)

Obviously, there are some practicalities to certain types of voting that might preclude a vote change – say, for example, if you’ve already put your secret ballot in the ballot box. And there are times when changing your vote wouldn’t make a difference in the result. Nevertheless, the rule is there: If you need to change your vote, Robert’s Rules says that you can. 

2. If the results of a vote are close, you must count the votes. 

No. No one member can demand that a vote be counted, even if the results are close.

If the results of a vote are close, here are the options:

  • Option 1: The chair should retake the vote and decide on her own to count it if necessary to be satisfied that she has accurately determined the result.
  • Option 2: A member can say, “Division” – which requires the chair to retake the vote by a clearer means (e.g., raised hands, or standing, instead of a voice vote).
  • Option 3: A member can make a motion that the vote be counted. The motion requires a second and a majority vote to pass. (Yes, you read that right. You need to vote on whether you can count a vote. If you’re thinking, “That seems like circular reasoning and would likely be an unproductive process,” you’re on the right track.) 

Options 1 and 2 are ways to verify the accuracy of a vote, but they are not ways for anyone to require that a vote be counted. In Robert’s Rules one person requiring a counted vote isn’t a thing. You need a majority of the group for that. See Option 3. 

3. The chair can never vote. 

False. The chair can vote in three circumstances: in a small board or committee, if the vote is a secret, and if his vote would affect the result. You can read all about it here.

4. A tie vote is a winning vote.

And again, no. This one is pretty simple, but there’s something about a tie vote that throws people off and sends them into “deer-in-the-headlights” mode.

Just remember that a winning vote is a majority – more than half. So if you have a tie, there’s no majority. Without a majority, there’s no winning candidate or option. And so, the motion doesn’t pass.