I live in a small town. A town that grows ever smaller when some of us participate in online (mostly FB) debates over the town’s “issues.” A page with 873 “likes,” I believe, is the largest collection of people getting information from the three moderators about happenings in our small town. I started a group: it has 152 members. There’s a group of “moms” with 587 members. Then of course there are the secret, whispered-about groups where alongside planning out strategies on how to advocate/oppose the cause du jour, the members shout into an echo chamber and swoon in their confirmation bias. (Side note: I’m part of those groups, and I like an echo as much as the next person.)
In any one day, one can be assailed with thoughts, opinions, and criticisms. It can get nasty–and usually does in an increasingly ugly way–leading up to Town Meeting and town-wide voting.
Recently these FB groups and the discussions at various committee/board meetings have been focused on whether to spend money on something which “we all agree” needs fixing. (I use the quotes because it has become trendy to oppose a position but throw in the “we all agree” language. “We” don’t all agree. If we did, there would be no secret groups and no debate. I know folks who don’t want to spend one tax dollar on the proposed project. They couldn’t care less about the matter.)
Prior to our May Town Meeting, the various town boards and committees are asked to take votes relative to whether the board/committee–as a whole–“supports” any of the various issues which will be debated and then voted on at Town Meeting. Generally, each article to be put to a vote has the endorsement (for lack of a better word) of at least one board or committee.
Unless . . .
Unless there is some controversy swirling about. That’s when hand-wringing, politicking, or selfishness seem to motivate some board/committee members to do nothing. Literally, they abstain. These elected officials don’t vote “yea” or “nay” or even ask to be recused because of a conflict of interest; these folks simply refuse to take any position.
There can be lots of reason for this, I suppose. It could be deer-in-the-headlights syndrome, i.e., looking uninformed. It could be motivated by self interest, i.e., trying to appear neutral. It could be self preservation, i.e., hoping not to lose any friends/respect.
Here’s what I posted to that 587-member Moms group:
What’s up with abstaining? I think these people think that means they hold no position. While I respect AP and MR, I do not respect abstention votes.
Well, news travels fast in this small town. I’ve been “confronted” (gently) about this opinion of mine. For the record, this is how I feel about abstention:
When asked to vote, there are three choices: yea, nay, and recusal after an affirmative statement as to the recuser’s conflict of interest.
Abstention is a wimpy shirk of responsibility. Why hold an elected position if when the time comes to vote, the option is abstention?