Abstention: Alcohol? Carbs? Nope: Politics.

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?

Those people (or even entire elected boards) who choose silence over an up or down vote look stupid and ineffective and make many of us wonder about the motivation for the non-choice. It can leave us thinking there is a hidden agenda and we don’t know the “full story.”
Those who abstain could have instead voted “no” and explained themselves, they could have voted “yes” and explained themselves. Instead, they did nothing. This makes them look like leaders who don’t want the responsibility of leading, invariably leaving people to wonder why they’re even sitting on these committees and boards if they don’t participate.
For me abstention is little more than an euphemism for “this has gotten too political, and I don’t like politics.”
Then why be there in the first place?
Ultimately, these decisions are left to the Town Meeting voters; so those who abstain are completely off the hook in the end. Sadly though, those who opted not to take a position by their abstention vote have exposed themselves to looking badly, or simply cowardly when it comes to taking a position.


Image result for voting

(Side note: On average, about two hundred people show up for Town Meeting. In years when there is a controversy, that number can double. Compare these numbers to the ones (above) in the first paragraph.)




10 thoughts on “Abstention: Alcohol? Carbs? Nope: Politics.

  1. I think my follow up comment probably deserves more of a rebuke, but then again you are a known entity and few people in town could pick me out of a line up. And for the record I completely with your view on this particular thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am rarely without an opinion. The only exception is when I am still studying a topic from the many available sources both pro and con and honestly have not made up my mind. After settling on a position it is a logical expectation that people in leadership would make their positions known. It should be further expected of leadership that the reasons for supporting a given position be made known both to demonstrate that they have done their job and also to possibly persuade someone of an opposing opinion.


    1. And if people choose to abstain because “there’s not enough information to support a YES or NO,” then that person ought to advocate to table the matter until more information is known. IMHO.


  3. I support Mark in the decision he made. Of the 3 options, I think he chose the best one. I appreciate you might not agree. Public office is not easy.


  4. I haven’t been involved in small town politics for a few years while living abroad, but I do remember one selectman in my town abstaining more than any other because she did not feel some of the decisions/votes being made were the board’s to make or that there was a lack of info. She always made that clear before the vote though. The other selectman were always visibly irritated with her, and expressed publically that they felt she was being difficult or not doing her job. Local politics is complicated and difficult!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. And if there’s not enough to make an informed decision, I’d say that there ought not be a vote. Table it for future discussion/debate once the information is made available.


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