Tie Vote Fails

By Ann Macfarlane, Professional Registered Parliamentarian


What happens when a vote is tied? The fundamental principle is that a tie vote fails.

In order for a motion to pass, a majority must vote in favor. “Majority” means “more than half” or “more than 50%.”

On a board of five members, if one member abstains due to conflict of interest, two members vote in favor, and two vote against, there are equal numbers in favor and against. This is not a majority. It is a tie vote, and it fails.

In addition, the AASB Sample Bylaws state clearly that unless otherwise provided by law, affirmative votes by a majority of the School Board’s membership are required to approve any action under consideration, regardless of the number of members present. So the motion would fail on these grounds as well, since two is not a majority of five.

What about the chair?

Sometimes the chair of the school board refrains from voting. We believe that this is not appropriate in an Alaskan school board. As an elected official, the chair has the duty of representing the interests and views of the voters. Under Alaskan law, the chair is fully entitled to vote.

In addition, Robert’s Rules of Order has special rules for small boards (read about them here). Under those rules, in a small board of up to about 12 people, the chair is a full participant. She may make motions, second them, participate in discussion, and vote.

At the same time, because of the natural human tendency to give undue deference to the leader, we encourage chairs to show restraint. We recommend that chairs invite others to make motions, that they refrain from seconding motions, and that they speak and vote last. This is a Jurassic Parliament suggestion—it is not in Robert’s Rules of Order.

What about abstentions?

The AASB Sample Bylaws further state that members have a duty to vote on issues before them. This means that a member cannot abstain—decline to vote—just because he or she feels like it. However, in some circumstances, members must abstain because of a conflict of interest. This is the relevant excerpt:

“The School Board recognizes that when no conflict of interest requires abstention, its members have a duty to vote on issues before them. When a member abstains because of a conflict of interest or for any other reason, his/her abstention shall be considered to concur with the action taken by the majority of those who vote, whether affirmatively or negatively.”

It is interesting to note that in the case of a tie vote, there is no majority! However, since a tie vote fails, we believe that when there is a tie vote, someone who abstains is concurring with the action taken by those who vote against.

Learn more about abstentions by reading our article, If you abstain from a vote, what happens? You can access all our posts on voting and quorum here.

Note that this article is offered for educational purposes only. I am not an attorney, and nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.

I enjoyed my participation in your February Leadership Fly-in immensely! Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with citizens serving on Alaska’s school boards.

© Jurassic Parliament 2018. All rights reserved.

Ann Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian who is committed to making meeting procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order easy to understand and useful for local governments, so they can better serve their communities. Visit her website, www.jurassicparliament.com, for more information and to subscribe to Jurassic Parliament newsletter and blog.

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The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.