You asked: Elected officials abstain from voting for many reasons

Published 11:50 am Saturday, July 9, 2011

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You asked: What allows elected officials to abstain from voting?

FRANKLIN—While there are many reasons an elected official can choose to abstain from voting, most times it comes down to a conflict of interest.

The Virginia Conflict of Interest Act requires elected officials to disqualify themselves from voting in the case of inappropriate conflicts and announce that conflict either at the meeting, prior to a meeting, or the day after a meeting, said Mark Flynn, general counsel for the Virginia Municipal League.

Conflicts can arise from a business arrangement, a family situation, or financial situation that might indirectly affect an elected official, said Jim Campbell, executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties.

“Some elected officials are more careful about conflicts, and if it’s unclear, they would rather abstain,” Campbell said.

Flynn and Campbell agreed that politics can also drive abstentions by public officials; however, this is not as frequently used.

Campbell said sometimes elected officials will choose to abstain if a controversial issue is brought before a board.

“That can come back to bite you,” Campbell said. “That’s why it’s less used.”

Officials can also choose to abstain if they feel they don’t have enough information on an issue to make an informed decision, Flynn said. He said on issues that don’t involve a conflict officials don’t have to disclose a reason for the abstention.