In conversations about United Methodist disaffiliations, I’ve heard lots of talk about people voting “abstain” and how those “should be counted”.
First some disaffiliation background…
In disaffiliation votes, in order to succeed, a vote must garner 67% (66.6%) or more “yes” votes of the “members present.” So, if 100 members are present, a church would need 67 “Yes” votes to disaffiliate. “Yes” votes and “No” votes are easy enough to count. But there seems to be some confusion about abstentions (“Abstain” votes) and blank/not returned ballots (“Novote”).
A couple of considerations…
“Abstentions” and “Novotes” (returning a blank or no ballot, not to be confused with a “No” vote) impact the vote the same way a “No” vote does. If you’d like to know why that is true, read further. If not, just know that if you’re handed a ballot, anything but a “Yes” vote results in a higher likelihood of the church not disaffiliating.
If you’re a member, but you genuinely do not want to impact the vote in any way, you would need to show up to the vote and sign in as a “non-voting observer”.
If you are given a ballot, you impact the vote whether you vote or not.
The Book of Discipline says: “The decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.” [emphasis added] So, when a member shows up, they impact the threshold even if they tear up their ballot and throw it away. This specific language includes even members present who do not vote.
That means the calculation for 2/3 majority is based on the number of ballots distributed, not the number of valid ballots cast. If 100 people are given a ballot, 67 “Yes” votes are necessary for the vote to succeed. Whether the non-“Yes” votes are “No” votes; abstentions (“Abstain” is a legitimate vote); or “NoVotes” (ballots not marked, improperly marked, or not returned) is not relevant. The total number of ballots is figured by the number of ballots handed out, and the “Yes” votes must reach 66.6% to succeed. They’ll count all of the vote categories [“Yes” • “No • “Abstain” • “NoVote”], but the “Yes” votes and the number of ballots distributed are the only figures that matter.
Let’s assume 200 members are given ballots when they walk in. The “threshold for victory” is 2/3 (66.6%) of the total ballots distributed (134) “Yes” votes.
While I acknowledge this can be confusing, it is all based on simple math. So let me make it as simple as I can:
As long as there are 200 ballots distributed, the threshold will always be 134!
The percentage is not “Yes” vs. “No” votes. The percentage is “Yes” ÷ Total Ballots Handed Out.
So, the only way to truly not impact the vote is to not take a ballot. And the only way you can do that is to identify as a “non-voting observer” when you come in the room.