If a town council has 5 members, and 2 vote yes and 3 abstain or recuse, did the motion pass? Was there a quorum for the purposes of the vote? Is an abstention considered a yes vote, a no vote, or neither? These are common questions. Current guidance is murky, however, and calls for legislation. Bill A2896 would clarify the issues but has seen little activity, with only a few months left in the legislative session. A2896 states that an abstention is not counted as either a yes vote or no vote but that the member abstaining adds to the quorum while a member who recuses does not.
Well-known transparency advocate John Paff wrote an interesting post on this topic, below. He points out that the issue is not just whether a member abstains or recuses from a vote, but whether that member should have recused in lieu of abstaining. How should an abstention be treated if the existence of a conflict called for the member’s recusal instead?
NJ Open Government Notes
Is a quorum of a municipal governing body present when a majority of the body’s members are recused, conflicted or choose not to vote?
by John Paff
Oct. 6, 2017