Voting “Present”

In some legislative bodies, members have the option to vote “present” on a question that is before the body. In such instances, voting “present” allows a member to take a pass on answering the question at hand and, doing so might also affect how the prevailing vote count is tallied.

In Colorado, the standard voting options are “Yes” and “No”. A member who does not vote either “Yes” or “No” is recorded as being Excused or Absent. Whether a member is counted as excused or absent is based on whether he/she had previously asked to be excused and subsequently granted permission by chamber leadership. Note: just as in life outside the Capitol, people get sick and experience challenges of life.

One exception to those finite voting options for Colorado state legislators can be found in Article V, Section 43 of the Colorado Constitution, which requires that a member who has a direct personal financial interest in any measure or bill proposed before the General Assembly to recuse him/herself from voting on that matter. If such a direct personal financial interest exists for a Colorado state Representative or Senator or a member of his/her immediate family, then the member shall request publicly, before the body, to be excused from voting on that question.

That’s not how Congress works in Washington, DC, and that’s not how some other state legislatures work, but that is how the Colorado General Assembly works in Denver. Why? Because that’s how the people of Colorado wanted it to work when they put it in their state constitution in 1876.

There is one other very rare voting option for Colorado state legislators. That is, to declare “present, but refusing to vote.” That option isn’t an easy pass like voting “present” might be. Rather, it is a public declaration that the member IS present, but he/she is REFUSING to vote. That’s a risky declaration for a Colorado legislator to make because the ONE power that he/she has been granted by the voters in his/her district, is to vote on their behalf on matters before the General Assembly.

** The information provided herein is intended for general educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature, please consult with an attorney.

** Civics Corner content was written with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.

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