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What does it mean to vote "Present"

Last week at the Republican National Convention, Republican leaders mentioned over and over and over again that Senator Barack Obama had voted “present” on several occasions. The inference of the statement by the Republican leadership was that Senator Obama had voted “present” in order to avoid taking a stand on an issue.

Did Senator Obama actually vote “present” on several occasions? Absolutely.

Let’s just take a moment to learn what voting present really means. The “present” vote, while not counted as a “no” vote, is in effect a “no” vote that sends a message. The “present” vote is used by lawmakers in situations where they agree with a bill in spirit, however the current version of the bill is not good enough to vote “yes;” either it is too expensive, it is inadequately planned or funded, it will not stand constitutionally, or it has riders or earmarks attached that are entirely inappropriate.

A “present” vote is taking a stand. In fact the “present” vote says more than if the Senator had just voted “no.”

Did the leaders of the Republican Party understand this? Of course they did. This is what they do and part of their every day job. What the Republican leadership was counting on, was that you would not understand the meaning of the “present” vote.

Now you do.

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Update: it became clear to me in conversations stemming from this post that some people do not know the difference between abstaining from a vote and voting present. Abstaining from a vote is choosing not to vote. Voting Present is a vote that counts against the bill passing. Bills pass by the percentage of yes votes to the total number of all votes (yes, no, and present).
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cross-posted from BlogHer

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Seattle writer, Judy Schwartz Haley, blogs about raising a toddler while battling cancer, finishing a degree, and fending off ninjas. Also, she needs more coffee.
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