I understand that in the controversy over whether Mark Fisher got his 15% the Massachusetts Republican Party is contending that in fact the tally did not include “blank” votes but “present” votes. I followed up on the “present” issue earlier today. Since then a commenter named Anthony has written in to say that I misunderstood the rules governing a roll call vote. For those of you who love the cliffhanger of a good parliamentary rules scrubbing, I copy my answer below.
So, is a present equal to a blank or an abstention, and thus not counted in the vote total?Here is my response to Anthony:
I am working from Sarah Corbin Robert, Henry M. Robert II, William J. Evans, eds., Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 9th edition (Reading, MA: Perseus 1990).
Anthony is correct that in sec. 44 “Voting Procedure” covering roll call votes “those answering present are tallied in a third column, to the far right. . . . the secretary gives the final number of those voting on each side, and the number answering present, to the chair, who announces the figures and declares the result.”
However, a paragraph prior to that describing that present votes should be recorded in a separate column, Robert’s Rules provides: “Each member, as his name is called, responds in the affirmative or negative as shown above. If he does not wish to vote he answers present (or abstain).”
I would read that as “present” is the equivalent of “abstain.”
Section 43 “Bases for Determining a Voting Result” deals with the majority requirement and states a majority is “more than half of the votes cast by persons legally entitled to vote, excluding blanks or abstentions.” When a 2/3 vote is called for, that vote is also calculated excluding blanks and abstentions.
Back to sec. 44, Right of Abstention: “Although it is the duty of every member who has an opinion on a question to express it by his vote, he can abstain, since he cannot be compelled to vote.”
By the way, when a secret ballot is held, the tellers are to ignore blank ballots.
It seems that you can call it a blank, an abstention, or present, the result is the same. Blanks, abstentions, and presents are excluded from the count.
I thank Anthony for encouraging me to look more carefully at sec. 44 “Voting Procedure” though it does not alter my judgment of sec. 43 “Bases for Determining a Voting Result.”
I would add though that I have not assailed anyone’s motives in my analysis of the convention votes and would hope Anthony would extend the same courtesy to me. I certainly did not accuse anyone of voter suppression.