Counting a vote wrong is dangerous

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Counting a vote wrong can land you in big trouble.

Here are the three different ways of counting a vote.

Votes cast

The ordinary, default method is to count the VOTES CAST. So if 100 club members are present and 60 vote, it will take 31 votes (more than 50% or more than half of 60) for a motion to pass. If 10 board directors are present at a board meeting and 6 vote, it will take 4 votes for a motion to pass.

Members present

Sometimes a vote requires a MAJORITY OF THE MEMBERS PRESENT to vote in favor. This is a more difficult requirement to meet. If our 100 club members are present, it will take 51 votes (more than 50% or more than half of 100) for a motion to pass. If our 10 board directors are present, 6 must vote in favor for the motion to pass.

Majority of entire body

A MAJORITY OF THE ENTIRE BODY is the hardest requirement to meet for large groups. If our club has 500 members, and 100 are present, the motion cannot succeed under this requirement because it would take 251 votes in favor to pass. If our board has 15 members, 8 must vote in favor for a motion to pass.

The “entire body” is usually considered to be actual live people holding office who are eligible to vote. For example, say your board consists of 10 people but two have resigned, so there are only 8 holding office. A “majority of the entire body” will be five people, unless the bylaws say “majority of board positions” or something similar.

Counting a vote wrong by me

These are subtle distinctions but they have consequences! In Washington State, for instance, under RCW 24.03.110  a MAJORITY OF DIRECTORS PRESENT must vote in favor for a motion to pass.

I had a sad personal experience of this when chairing a meeting of a 13-member board. Everyone was present, 6 voted in favor, 4 voted against, and 3 abstained. As chair I declared that the motion had passed, but it in fact it had failed, since 6 is not a majority of 13. It was not pleasant to discover this error. Be sure to get familiar with the laws of your state of incorporation governing your nonprofit board or local government body. Consult your attorney when in doubt.

What about “abstain” when counting a vote?

Note that under Robert’s Rules of Order, TO ABSTAIN is to do nothing. Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition, the only official and current version of Robert’s Rules, says that the chair should not count abstentions and that abstentions are not listed in the vote count. Sometimes, however, this is necessary, for example in local government, or when someone abstains for reasons of conflict of interest. Read our blog entry here for more on “abstaining.”

Finally, if you are voting by ballot, you will want to become familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order’s guidance on counting a vote, and what to do about blank or spoiled ballots. You can read all about voting on pp. 400-429 of Robert’s Rules.

Do you have voting stories? Share them with us!

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