Abstention is a term in
election An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold Public administration, public office.vote
either does not go to vote (on election day) or, in
parliamentary procedure Parliamentary procedure is the body of ethics, Procedural law, rules, and Norm (sociology), customs governing meetings and other operations of Club (organization), clubs, organizations, Legislature, legislative bodies, and other deliberative assem ...
, is present during the vote, but does not cast a
. Abstention must be contrasted with " blank vote", in which a voter casts a ballot willfully made invalid by marking it wrongly or by not marking anything at all. A "blank (or white) voter" has voted, although their vote may be considered a spoilt vote, depending on each legislation, while an abstaining voter has not voted. Both forms (abstention and blank vote) may or may not, depending on the circumstances, be considered to be a protest vote (also known as a "blank vote" or "white vote"). An abstention may be used to indicate the voting individual's ambivalence about the measure, or mild disapproval that does not rise to the level of active opposition. Abstention can also be used when someone has a certain position about an issue, but since the popular sentiment supports the opposite, it might not be politically expedient to vote according to his or her conscience. A person may also abstain when they do not feel adequately informed about the issue at hand, or have not participated in relevant discussion. In parliamentary procedure, a member may be required to abstain in the case of a real or perceived
conflict of interest A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, morality, consciousness or self-consciousness, and being a part of a cultu ...
. Abstentions do not count in tallying the vote negatively or positively; when members abstain, they are in effect attending only to contribute to a
quorum A quorum is the minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly (a body that uses parliamentary procedure, such as a legislature) necessary to conduct the business of that group. According to '' Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised'', th ...
. White votes, however, may be counted in the total of votes, depending on the legislation.

Active abstention

An active abstention can occur where a voter votes in a way that balances out their vote as if they had never voted. This has occurred many times in the
House of Commons of the United Kingdom The House of Commons (domestically known as the Commons) is the lower house and ''de facto'' primary chamber of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons i ...

House of Commons of the United Kingdom
. During a division (a process where a yes/no vote occurs to agree or disagree to a motion), a
Member of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the people who live in their constituency. In many countries with Bicameralism, bicameral parliaments, this category includes specifically members of the lower house, as upper houses often ha ...
may actively abstain by voting both "yes" and "no". This is effectively the same as not voting at all, as the outcome will not be changed by the active abstention. However, in the House of Lords of the United Kingdom, active abstention is not possible as a Lord voting both ways will be removed from the list of votes. In another manner, an intentionally spoilt vote could be interpreted as an active abstention. An intentionally spoilt vote is caused by a voter who turns to an election and invalidates the ballot paper in some way. Because of the nature of an abstention, only intentionally spoiled ballots could be counted as an active abstention.

International and national parliamentary procedures

In the
United Nations Security Council The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that aims to maintain international peace and international security, se ...

United Nations Security Council
, representatives of the five countries holding a
veto A veto (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repu ...
power (the
United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., federal di ...
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shortha ...
France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consisting of metropolitan France and Overseas France, several overseas regions and territories. The metro ...
Russia Russia (russian: link=no, Россия, , ), or the Russian Federation, is a country spanning Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, largest country in the world, covering and encompassing mo ...
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.4 billion. Covering approximately 9.6& ...
) sometimes abstain rather than vetoing a measure about which they are less than enthusiastic, particularly if the measure otherwise has broad support. By convention, their abstention does not block the measure. If a majority of members of the United Nations General Assembly or one of its United Nations General Assembly#Subsidiary organs, committees abstain on a measure, then the measure fails. In the Council of the European Union, an abstention on a matter decided by unanimity has the effect of a ''yes'' vote; on matters decided by qualified majority it has an effect of a ''no'' vote. In the United States House of Representatives and many other legislatures, members may vote "present" rather than for or against a bill or resolution, which has the effect of an abstention. In the United States Senate, the Presiding Officer of the United States Senate, Presiding Officer calls each senator's name alphabetically, and, if abstaining, the senator must give a reason for the abstention. Members may decline to vote, in committee or on the floor, on any matter which he or she believes would be a conflict of interest. When a senator is nominated for a position that needs to be confirmed by the Senate, that senator is expected to vote "present", such as occurred in 2013 when John Kerry was nominated for the position of United States Secretary of State, Secretary of State and voted "present" rather than vote for his own confirmation.


In support for this non-political strategy, some non-voters claim that voting does not make any positive difference. "If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal," is an oft-cited sentiment attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman. In addition to strategic non-voters, there are also ''ethical non-voters'', those who reject voting outright, not merely as an ineffective tactic for change, but moreover because they view the act as either a grant of consent to be governed by the State (polity), state, a means of imposing illegitimate control over one's countrymen, or both. Thus, this view holds that through voting, one necessarily finds themselves violating the non-aggression principle. Herbert Spencer noted that whether a person votes for the winning candidate, votes for a losing candidate, or abstains from voting, he will be deemed to have consented to the rule of the winning candidate, if they were to follow the doctrine of Blackstone of which Spencer stated "A rather awkward doctrine this. "


Murray Rothbard, while a libertarian himself, criticized the ''New Libertarian Manifesto''s arguments that voting is immoral or undesirable: Samuel Edward Konkin III responded:

See also

*Abstentionism *Apolitical *Criticisms of electoralism *Direct democracy *Election boycott *Elections *Electoral fraud *Electronic voting *Liberal democracy *Lobbying in the United States *Non-politics *None of the above *None of These Candidates *Parliamentary procedure *Political alienation *Power elite *Protest vote *


{{Reflist Elections United Nations Human Rights Committee case law Libertarian theory Anarchist theory Voting theory