Voting early, but how often?
April 19, 2012 7:27 AM   Subscribe

In a meeting, not an election, how many times can an absentee ballot be used on the same issue?

At a board meeting last night, there was an up/down vote by secret ballot on an decision by a sub-committee. The initial vote was a tie, and we decided to continue the discussion and then vote again.

One of the board members needed to leave before the first vote, but he handed in an absentee ballot on this motion. This ballot was counted in the first vote that resulted in a tie.

If we knew which ballot was his (and we did) should it have been counted again in the second vote? Each vote was on the exact same motion with no changes other than additional discussion and additional information. We still had a quorum without the absent board member.
posted by donpardo to Law & Government (15 answers total)
Is there a constitution? You should check it to see what it says. In absence of clear guidance from the constitution, I suppose it's up to the head of the board to decide if absentee ballots will count in secret ballot votes (if it were up to me, I would say- only those present get a vote).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:33 AM on April 19, 2012

Is it possible that the meeting allows for proxy voting? This would allow for someone to vote in his stead. Robert's Rules discourage this sort of thing, but it happens. This sounds like something that should be raised as new business at the next meeting - a clarification on absentee/proxy voting.

We went through this in my HOA a couple of years back, as it was getting to be difficult (if not impossible) to reach a quorum otherwise.
posted by jquinby at 7:35 AM on April 19, 2012

In most organizations I've been involved with, the answer would be No. The person would have had to designate a proxy.
posted by muddgirl at 7:37 AM on April 19, 2012

Response by poster: Proxies are allowed and common. This was not a proxy. This was an absentee ballot, cast in full view of the board. The initial vote was valid.

The question is whether or not the ballot should be used in subsequent votes on the same issue.
posted by donpardo at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2012

If the absentee ballot was for a vote on a specific motion I would guess that it could only be used on that specific motion. If a latter motion changed at all I would think the absentee ballot would be invalid. This would be different than a absent member giving proxy power to some one to vote on the issue.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2012

Then no, I don't think so. For one, if it was a secret ballot you shouldn't know which vote was the absentee vote.
posted by muddgirl at 7:40 AM on April 19, 2012

(Although I recongize that of course secret votes aren't necessarily secret, but you have to maintain the polite fiction.)
posted by muddgirl at 7:40 AM on April 19, 2012

I'm going to join the chorus of 'no', then, for the reasons listed by rmhsinc above w/r/t to the specificity of the motion and the ballot. It's certainly worth raising a point of order if it happens again.
posted by jquinby at 7:45 AM on April 19, 2012

Response by poster: It was the exact same motion. An up/down vote on a recommendation from a sub-committee.
posted by donpardo at 7:46 AM on April 19, 2012

Each vote was on the exact same motion with no changes other than additional discussion and additional information.

The absentee ballot should not count in subsequent motions.

It's not the same motion if there's additional information. You don't know whether any additional information or discussion would have swayed the absent board member's vote one way or another. Their vote is meant to represent their best judgment respecting the motion under consideration. Given that there is additional information, the member's best judgment can only be speculated at.
posted by gauche at 7:48 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I was chairing the meeting and there were absolutely no change(s) in the motion I would allow it to be cast again. But any change, however small, would disqualify it. I am assuming the absentee ballot was submitted before the board member heard all of the discussion and information on the original motion.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:50 AM on April 19, 2012

Response by poster: He left before there was any discussion on the matter.
posted by donpardo at 8:18 AM on April 19, 2012

"He left before there was any discussion on the matter."--well there you go--if it was the same motion I say vote early and vote often.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:27 AM on April 19, 2012

If it was meant to be a secret ballot and you know it was his because of some technicalities, then, no, I don't think you can use it a second time. Because technically, you didn't know it was his, you only assumed it was his. Even if he wrote his name on it. Somebody else might have written his name on their ballot for some reason while doodling or something. Implausible, yes, but the point is, the rules say the ballot was a secret. You can't then decide that even though it was a secret ballot, you know whose vote was whose.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 10th ed. (2000) — not the most recent edition, but the one I have at hand — has this to say about absentee voting (pp. 408-409):
"It is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law that the right to vote is limitd to the members of an organization who are actually present at the time the vote is taken in a legal meeting.... Exceptions to this rule must be expressly stated in the bylaws." [emph. mine]
So, presuming that your organization follows Robert's Rules in general (not a given, but you did list robertsrulesoforder among the tags on this question), the absentee vote should not have been counted even the first time, unless your organization's bylaws explicitly allow absentee votes.

Robert's goes on to say, discussing the general prohibition against absentee votes,
"The votes of those present could be affected by debate, by amendments, and perhaps by the need for repeated balloting, while those absent would be unable to adjust their votes to reflect those factors."
So while Robert's doesn't explicitly say whether an absentee vote on an original motion, assuming it's permitted by the organization, counts towards the reconsideration of a motion, it seems to me that the same principles by which Robert's justifies prohibiting absentee votes in general also argues against re-using an absentee vote on a later consideration of the same motion, particularly when (as in this case) there has been intervening discussion on the motion.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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