Negative Votes, Positive Results

Cicely Enright

Tips for Writing an Effective Negative Vote

Your voice in the standards process includes the power of the negative vote: A negative vote stops a standard from further development until it is addressed. And, regardless of your voting status, your negative vote must be considered and resolved through action according to the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees (more about the actions below).

Don't be afraid to use the negative vote, but use it well. And, note that the committee adjudicates only what is written, so a "good negative" is the most useful negative.

Also, remember the difference between a comment and a negative vote: A comment does not keep a draft from moving forward (comments work well for new business and editorial changes). A negative does. If you can live with the proposed standard's technical content, procedures, and safety, but want to say something, include a comment. If you think the content needs correction, vote negatively.

At a recent committee week session, Jeff Adkins, a staff manager in ASTM's Technical Committee Operations division, offered advice about writing effective negative votes. (See below for how to find training on this and other topics.)

  • Clearly state each objection. If you have concerns with five different parts of a test method, for example, keep them separate and support each point.
  • Reference the specific section, paragraph, and even sentence where you have objections.
  • Be as detailed as possible about the reason for your negative vote and suggest an alternative.
  • Clarify points by copying text from the ballot.
  • Separate any comments that are not intended to be part of your negative.
  • Write your negative so that stands alone without further explanation required. The subcommittee is only required to act on the written statement.
  • Email or call the technical contact to discuss your negative. Remember, ASTM does not require the technical contact to be in touch with the negative voter.

Robert Morgan, a director in ASTM's TCO division, is an expert in understanding the options for handling negative votes. According to an article he wrote for this column in 2008, these are the various possible paths when a negative is submitted:

  • 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  • The discussion could result in the negative vote being withdrawn for an editorial change if language was added to clarify the point without affecting the technical content of the document.
  • 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.
  • A negative vote can be found not related (most commonly because the vote reflects information not on the actual ballot). 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.
  • A negative vote can be found to have been previously considered.
  • 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. The standard then goes back to the group for further revision.

If you would like to attend a free member training session on negative votes, check for the next "Balloting and Handling Negative Votes" WebEx session.

You can also check out the new Professional Development microsite.

Contact Kathleen Chalfin (+1.610.832.9717) or your committee's staff manager if you have any questions.

Issue Month: 
Issue Year: