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The Impact & Consequences of Abstaining From Voting
(2 Common Types)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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Abstaining from voting can be a solid statement, but it also has serious repercussions for the voter and the system. With over 10 years of experience as a legal attorney, I am here to explain why abstention is sometimes necessary.

Voters must comprehend what it means when they choose not to vote, so let me inform you of its implications in this article.

Quick Summary

  • When voters choose to express their decision not to vote for any option on the ballot, it is known as an active abstention. 
  • Unsurprisingly, uneducated and underprivileged people vote the least, as they often lack the knowledge and resources necessary for meaningful political engagement.
  • Since abstainers have not cast their ballots, they don't factor into the majority.

What Is Abstaining?

A vote box with a cross markAbstaining is when a voter chooses not to vote in an election. This can mean deliberately choosing not to vote or forgetting to register and being unable to participate in the first place [1].

Casting votes without knowing whom or what you are voting for can be more irresponsible than not voting.

From this perspective, randomly selecting candidates isn't worth the potential consequences; hence, abstaining is better.

2 Types of Abstain Votes

Sometimes, workers may not want to vote for either of the candidates (or options) on the ballot. In cases like these, they can choose to abstain from voting.

An abstaining vote is an empty vote, which means the individual who casts this vote neither supports nor opposes the candidate or motion being voted upon. Now, there are two types of abstain votes.

These are:

  • Active abstain vote
  • Passive abstain vote

Active Abstain Votes

A person abstaining a voteActive abstention allows the voter to express their opinion on the day of voting by ticking off "abstain" from the ballot paper.

If such an option is unavailable, they can still cast their vote for a stance or candidate that isn't listed - thereby making it count without having any real impact on results [2].

This way, voters make sure their voices are heard and opinions expressed in what may otherwise be a one-sided election outcome.

Passive Abstain Votes

In contrast, passive abstention voting is when a city decides not to turn up on election day. They may choose not to participate in any way, leaving it for others participating in the election to gauge and interpret their omission.

In 2016, the election between President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked a historic moment.

Despite this monumental occasion, an astonishing 100 million citizens have chosen to abstain from voting - more than any candidate received in total votes.

What Does an Abstain Vote Result In?

A bunch of abstained votes in a box

An abstain vote can result in multiple outcomes depending on the election's structure and the rules governing it.

Generally speaking, abstention can mean that:

  • The result of the vote is unaffected
  • A candidate might win or lose because of the number of abstaining votes
  • An election may have to be rerun if there are too many abstaining votes
  • A motion can be passed or defeated because of the number of abstaining votes

Ultimately, the impact and consequences of an abstention vote depend on the voting system and other factors such as voter turnout.

Although not always a deliberate choice, even if one decides to abstain from voting just once, one can still do so by casting an invalid vote at the polling station.

It is widely accepted that the uneducated people vote least, primarily because they lack political resources.

Supporting the Majority

When a majority of voters favor something, and an opposition individual decides not to cast their vote, it works out to be the same as if they had voted with the rest. Sometimes not voting can fortify a group's decision just like any other vote would.

Undermining the Minority

If a majority vote is required to pass, failing to cast your ballot can help the minority position. For example, if 19 people favor a motion and only one is against it, choosing to abstain from voting can result in the motion failing due to a lack of a majority.

No Effect

In some cases, not voting has no impact whatsoever on the results of the elections. This is especially true in areas where a majority vote isn't required to pass or fail a motion or when there are more than two options available - thus allowing the opposition their own choice of candidates and stances without your participation making any difference.

"Hundreds of factors affect the decision to vote or abstain from voting during an election, and these vary from voter to voter."
- André Blais, Professor in The Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal

What Effect Can Abstaining Have?

A politician doing a speechAbstaining can have a variety of effects on the outcome of an election, depending on how it is structured and governed.

It can support the majority, undermine the minority, or have no effect whatsoever. Everyone must understand the consequences of abstaining from voting before participating in any election.

This way, they can make informed decisions about whether or not to participate, ensuring that their choices have the desired effect. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide whether or not abstaining from voting is the right choice.

Reasons to Abstain From Voting

A person holding an abstained voteAbstain votes are quite common for political bodies and student unions alike - yet, often, the reasons behind not voting remain ambiguous.

To ensure fair elections and optimal governance, however, it is wise to inquire why a voter opted out of casting either a 'yes' or 'no' vote.

By understanding their reasonings, we can make more informed decisions that consider all opinions.

Numerous individuals abstain from civic duty and do not cast a ballot.

The following are some of the common reasons why:

  • They have a conflict of interest.
  • Without sufficient research or experience, they cannot contribute their opinion on the matter.
  • They are unwilling to divulge their stance on the issue.
  • Due to the legal regulations and constraints they face, these individuals are barred from participating in the election.
  • Religious reasons.

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Why Do People Choose Not to Vote or Are Apathetic Toward the Voting Process?

The reasons people choose not to vote or are apathetic toward the voting process are alienation and voter fatigue. Alienation can be described as the feeling citizens experience when they believe their political system fails to meet their needs and any efforts towards reform are useless. 

Is Abstaining the Same as Recusing?

No, abstaining is not the same as recusing. Abstention entails making a final decision, whereas recusal typically encompasses avoiding the whole process.

When Does a Body Have a Quorum?

A body has a quorum when it has enough members present to make a valid decision.

Get a Free Consultation with Our Lawyers

Ultimately, abstaining from voting should not be taken lightly. Voters need to understand the implications of their choice and research any potential effects it could have on an election before deciding whether or not they will vote.

If you need to ask an attorney about your options, contact Schmidt & Clark, LLP for a free consultation session. Our lawyers can help you assess the situation and determine the best action.