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March/April 2008
EnRoute

Getting Positive Results from Negative Votes

young woman giving thumbs-upYour approach to submitting or resolving negative votes is a critical step in the process of shaping standards and is the single most important element of the ASTM International standards development process. Without negative votes and their proper consideration, ASTM would not be regarded as one of the premier standards organizations in the world.

Regardless of your voting status, your negative vote must be considered and resolved, and a single negative vote will stop the ballot item from moving forward. Because the negative vote is your “voice” in standards development, understanding the process is important.

Registering and Reviewing Negative Votes

All negative votes must be accompanied by a written statement. When you click on the negative vote option using ASTM’s online ballot system, a text box appears for you to add that statement, which should identify specific concerns as well as language that would satisfy them. Remember, this is your opportunity to make this a better standard!

The ASTM ballot process does allow voters to submit a comment with an abstention or affirmative vote without voting negative, but this option should only be used for editorial issues or technical considerations for a future ballot.

All negative votes and comments can be accessed by the technical contact and/or subcommittee chairman. An e-mail notification is sent to the contact, directing them to the “My Tools” section of the “My Committees” Web page. By clicking on “Ballot Negatives and Comments,” contacts can review negatives or comments.

Assume you have just reviewed a negative vote. Now what? ASTM International advocates a three-step approach for handling negatives: communication, consideration and documentation. Following this process almost guarantees positive results from negative votes.

Communication, Consideration, Documentation

Communicating with the negative voter early on is important. Often, the negative voter has missed a meeting and the discussion resulting in the wording of a particular ballot item. A phone call or e-mail to the negative voter can be very effective, and a conversation with some clarification about the discussion may result in the negative voter withdrawing that vote. Waiting for a meeting to initiate this communication, however, is often too late.

If you are unable to reach a resolution through communication with the negative voter, the next step will be consideration, which uses the consensus process to determine the disposition of the negative vote. The consideration process, which usually begins at a subcommittee meeting or with a subcommittee ballot, concludes with one of six possible resolutions.

  • After discussion at a meeting, the negative voter may decide to withdraw the negative.
  • The discussion could result in the negative vote being withdrawn for an editorial change if language was added to clarify the point without affecting the technical content of the document. For this resolution, the editorially revised ballot item must be included with the resolution form.
  • If there is general agreement that the negative voter is correct and the document needs to be fixed, or if a not-persuasive or not-related motion fails, the negative is considered persuasive. Note that a persuasive negative simply withdraws that item from ballot. It does not guarantee that a re-ballot will address the issues raised in the persuasive negative vote.
  • A negative vote can be found not persuasive at a meeting or by ballot. A not-persuasive motion requires detailed reasoning that addresses the points raised by the negative. For the motion to pass you need a two-thirds affirmative vote of the combined affirmative and negative votes cast (not including abstentions) by the voting members of the subcommittee. Remember, one vote per voting interest (For more about voting interests, see “About Voting” in the January/February 2008 issue of SN).
  • A negative vote can be found not related. This motion also requires a two-thirds affirmative vote. In addition, the not-related issue raised in the negative vote has to become a new business item for the subcommittee. Not-related motions are almost exclusively for the situation when the ballot item is specific to a particular section of a standard, and the voter raises issue with another section of the standard not currently on ballot. When in doubt, find the negative not persuasive.
  • A negative vote can be considered as being previously considered. If you have documentation that an identical negative was addressed from a previous ballot, and you can provide that documentation along with the vote counts, there is no need for the subcommittee to address the negative again.

Note that subcommittee negative votes found to be not persuasive only require a subcommittee vote, but main committee or society review negatives must first be acted on by the subcommittee and then by the main committee. If you choose to handle a not-persuasive or not-related motion by ballot, the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees permit a concurrent ballot, provided the subcommittee and main committee chairmen approve.

The last part of the three-step approach is documentation. Without proper documentation, you could potentially have to repeat the entire process. Documentation comes in two places. Both are critical. First of all, there are negative vote resolution forms, once known as “pink sheets.” While no longer pink, today’s forms are similar and can be found online in the “Ballot Negatives and Comments” section of the “My Tools” area. After clicking on the ballot and scrolling to the bottom of the page, you will find and be able to download the resolution form. On the form, check the appropriate resolution box. If the negative was not persuasive, detail the motion information in the text box provided. Also include the action vote counts and the date of the meeting. After completing the form, you can save it and e-mail it to your staff manager as an attachment.

An accurate record of the actions as well as the resolution form is needed in the subcommittee minutes to complete the documentation. The minutes require specific details of the not persuasive motions, addressing all points of the negative along with all appropriate vote counts. These records are important because the Committee on Standards reviews all not-persuasive and not-related actions to ensure that all points have been accurately and completely addressed.

A Final Note

The negative vote plays a critical role in the technical credibility and global relevance of ASTM International standards. Understanding how to deal with negative votes effectively will help you get positive results from negative votes!

Robert Morgan is a director in the Technical Committee Operations division.