How Abstain Works

Abstaining from voting means avoiding votes cast within a form of democracy or a deliberative body. Democracy is a kind of government where you and other people can select the form of government. The most famous form of democracy all over the globe is a representative democracy. As part of representative democracy, you and other citizens choose a person to represent you in a specific governmental office. That official you elect performs the responsibilities of the office.

When we refer to deliberative assemblies, we mean a group of individuals who come together to make decisions, often on behalf of a bigger group of people. Although most governmental bodies in a democracy are deliberative assemblies, not every deliberative assembly is a governmental body. Many deliberative bodies rely on some form of plurality or majority to make decisions. These deliberative bodies often require a specific percentage of body-members to be present before making a valid decision. Once the deliberative body has the minimum percentage of members present to decide, that body then has a quorum.

Within the quorum system, any member of the body can choose to abstain from casting their vote, or they may abstain by voting "yes" and "no." A "yes" and "no," vote cancels out the member's votes. Abstaining can be a method for you as a quorum member to exercise responsibility, e.g., abstaining from voting to protest an issue or because of a conflict of interest. Within a quorum, voting a "no" is the same as abstaining from a vote.

Example of Abstain

When you can vote, but you choose not to do so, you deliberately abstain from voting. For example, at different points throughout the Brexit process, various parties have used abstentions to either move or block measures and legislation. Those who abstained in Brexit's first meaningful vote included the seven members of the Irish Republic (Sinn Fein). These members follow abstentionism which, unlike election boycott, requires members to participate in an election. Abstentionists refuse to work with alliances or governments they deem detrimental to their interests. This is a tactical use of abstention that can be a valuable political tool. However, it can come with some risks, like other parties passing legislation despite abstentions.

Significance of Abstain

While voting is your legal right, you may choose abstention for many reasons, e.g., you do not think that you know enough about the topic at hand to make an informed decision. You may also abstain because you believe voting on a specific issue represents a conflict of interests, or you prefer to withhold your vote in protest and other reasons. Although you may consider abstaining from a vote quite straightforward, its consequences and implications can be significant. However, the best way you can fully understand the impact that abstention from a vote can have is first to understand the importance of voting.

You can choose to abstain from things, places, or activities permanently or for a specific period. More so, you can abstain alone or with a group of people for moral and emotional support. The goal is to starve yourself of the pleasure you derive from the activity and redirect your attention to something you consider more beneficial.