Parliamentary Procedure FAQ 2

Do governing body members have an obligation to vote on all matters that come before the body?

Unless governing body members have a conflict of interest on a particular agenda item, they should participate in the deliberations and vote on the matter. This obligation stems from their oath of office, which requires governing body members to "faithfully discharge the duties of the office," which arguably includes voting.

However, state law does not limit the circumstances under which a governing body member may voluntarily abstain from voting. Governing body members are free to abstain due to perceived conflicts of interest or for no reason at all. Municipalities should not require governing body members to vote on every matter before the governing body. Likewise, municipalities should not require that governing body members cite specific reasons for declining to vote. A Madison ordinance requiring council members to vote on each matter before the council unless excused was ruled to be an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment rights of governing body members to remain silent. See Wrzeski v. City of Madison, 558 F. Supp. 664 (W.D. Wis. 1983).