Members of Parliament (MPs) in most countries have three options while voting for a law proposal. The third option means neither 'accept' nor 'reject', but recorded for quorum.

  • 'Accept'
  • 'Reject'
  • 'Abstain' or 'Neither' or else?

My web search returned 'abstain' and 'neither', but I'm not sure if they are officially used expressions in any English-spoken country.

What expression can be used as a third option on a ballot?

  • Voting on a bill in a parliament or institution of that ilk, is not a citizen voting in an election. You might want to take a look at: Robert's Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procesure, that deals specifically with this and is followed in most English-speaking countries.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 16:36
  • It should read 'unpersuaded', but never does.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 18:35
  • 6
    @NigelJ No it shouldn't there are lots of reasons to abstain.
    – Ben
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:29
  • 1
    In some organizations, they actually consider multiple "3rd" options. Such as distinguishing "Abstain", from "No vote submitted". Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 6:45
  • If you want to know what the choices are for actual MPs in some particular country, you would be better off asking that directly in the Politics.SE. If you're looking for a more general term, you should include a sample sentence showing how you want to use the term, so people can get the nuance right for you.
    – 1006a
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 18:22

5 Answers 5


"Abstain," as you suggest, is widely-understood, at least in the UK.

See this Sky News article on the EU withdrawal bill which includes:

However, there were still rebels among Labour and Tory MPs, along with some notable abstentions.

  • 10
    "Abstain" is, in my experience in the US, the word most likely to be used formally for "choose not to vote" such as in the context presented in this question. Various specific instances of voting might have special terms (such as "Present" mentioned in another answer), but the general public is less likely to be familiar with them and they aren't universally applicable. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 16:07
  • 4
    @KamilDrakari I agree with Kamil. As an American, I would understand "abstain" as not recording a vote at all, not recording "Abstain" Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 16:39
  • 1
    @AzorAhai that's correct, but I think the OP is getting at, for the vote to be valid at all there must be a quorum, i.e. a minimum number of members present. So there is a difference between not voting, and not voting while present to vote.
    – Ben
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 17:25
  • 2
    I believe in the US the term is "present".
    – Ben
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 17:26
  • 3
    @Ben "present" is the term used in Congress. Other levels of government may use different terms. Local governments in my area generally use "abstain," for example. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:23

You specified MPs, but then asked for "any English spoken country". In the US Congress (and generally in the USA), legislative votes are typically recorded as "Yea" (yes/for passage), "Nay" (no/against passage) or "Present".

For example, this link is for the most recent set of votes in Congress of type Yea and Nay.

  • 2
    This is correct as far as it goes, but isn't comprehensive. The fact is that "any English spoken country" includes both US and "Commonwealth" (more parliamentary than the US separation-of-powers model) traditions. I suspect that "abstain" covers much of what "Present" does not. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 15:32
  • 4
    @Monty pboss might have taken any to mean ‘pick one’, rather than ‘for all’.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 0:13

The term Abstention sounds best here, as you suggested abstain; it denotes:

an instance of declining to vote for or against a proposal or motion.

  • In UK elections, where this option is not provided, such votes are counted, with others, as 'spoiled ballot papers'. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 15:06
  • 1
    What you describe here is not at all what the OP is asking about, which is on whether an MP votes for or against a piece of legislation. NOTA in that context would be identical to "No", and thus pointless. Absention is neither a yes nor no vote, and does not count against passage as NOTA counts against the majority required to elect a candidate in jurisdictions where it's implemented. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 15:26
  • @MontyHarder, thanks for the correction. I just mistakened the OP's question. I have edited my answer now. :)
    – Ahmed
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 16:29

It's not political representatives as you asked, but a similar example that may be interesting is the procedure used (in US) for voting by stockholders of a publicly-owned company, usually at an annual meeting, but occasionally at a special meeting called to consider a merger or similar.

Shares can be voted explicitly yes/for, no/against, or abstain/withhold at these events. However, many shares are "held in street name", meaning they are registered as "owned" by the stockbroker who bought them on behalf a client who is the true "beneficial" owner; this allows purchases and sales to be done electronically which is quick and cheap rather than having to carry or mail paper certificates as was formerly done. (I'm old enough to remember my father in the 1970s doing that.) Since the broker is only a custodian of these shares, it must vote them as instructed by the client -- and if the client doesn't give instructions, as they often don't, the broker is permitted by regulations to vote on matters classified as "routine", which are now few, but not anything else. Shares not voted for this reason are in a fourth status called "broker non-votes" and depending on the company bylaws and corporation law for its state these non-votes sometimes count the same as abstentions but sometimes are treated differently.


Absention is the most commonly used term.

However, in the UK parliament, you can't actually vote abstain (or similar).

When MPs vote, they 'divide' into the yes lobby or the no lobby, where their vote is recorded. If you don't want to vote yes or no, you stay in the chamber (or, you don't show up at the Commons at all).

Small and weird caveat: you can vote yes and no! https://www.publicwhip.org.uk/boths.php

  • "Both" is a much more active abstention that "not voting". Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 14:45
  • Yeah, probably. I didn't want to go too deeply into the politics of it, since this an English question, not a political one.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 15:45

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