Abstentions and Recusals: How do they count toward the vote tally and quorum?

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





In this case, two Bridgeton councilmen with seemingly significant conflicts failed to recuse from two votes on a City land sale. The motion passed but would have failed had the men recused. The 2nd vote was a last-minute unannounced agenda item after a dissenting council member had left the meeting. Had the two men recused, assuming that those who recuse don’t count toward the quorum, there would not have been a quorum for the second vote.

FYI, OPMA reform bill S1045 would prevent last-minute agenda additions except in emergency situations. Support reform!


NJ Open Government Notes
Judge: Conflict of interest lawsuit against two Bridgeton council members shall move forward.
by John Paff
Oct. 23, 2017