Ahh, roll call! It’s almost certainly the first order of business in a Model UN session after the chair gavels the committee to order. It might take just a few seconds in smaller committees, or interminable minutes in large General Assembly bodies, but it’s the first chance for everyone to learn who is in the room and record their attendance for things like determining quorum. During a roll call, you might hear some delegations call out “present and voting.”
But what, exactly, does “present and voting” mean?
Trick question! It turns out that “Present and voting” is not a term used at the actual United Nations. There is no formal roll call at UN meetings, and Member States may come and go as they please. Also, Member States may always cast an affirmative (yea) or negative (nay) vote, or abstain. That being said, abstentions are not counted as votes in this regard. This is how, for example, a theoretical draft resolution that received two votes in favor, one vote opposed and 190 abstentions in the General Assembly would pass: A simple majority of the States present and voting cast affirmative votes. In reality, such a scenario would be extraordinarily unlikely, as UN Member States work hard behind the scenes to achieve consensus and broad agreement on proposals. The phrase “present and voting” is used by some Model UN conferences, and is taken from Robert’s Rules of Order, which are not used at the UN. This statement is typically used when a member of the body is willing to state in advance that they do not plan to abstain, but will only vote “yes” or “no” on substantive issues.
At AMUN, our philosophy is first to replicate the work and processes of the United Nations in New York, and second to maximize the choices available to the distinguished representatives in a committee—which includes the option to abstain or not cast a vote on any matter: substantive or procedural. So in an AMUN meeting, you might hear a representative respond “present and voting” when his or her country is called, but the chair will inevitably respond “[country] is present.” It’s not that the chair didn’t hear the “and voting” part, it’s that the UN doesn’t use it. At the United Nations, there is no formal roll call, and States are welcome to come and go and vote (or not vote) as they please. At AMUN, then, we emulate this practice. It is one way that our conference works to replicate the UN’s practice and to preserve States’ sovereignty and autonomy. Member States wouldn’t lock themselves into a yes or no vote on any issue, so we simply record all States that respond to the roll call as “present.”
This also happens to be an excellent opportunity to remind everyone that Model UN conferences use different sets of rules to moderate their debate. Before you attend a conference, make sure you’re up to speed on the particular rules of procedure they will be using! At AMUN, we strive to use rules of procedure that emulate, whenever possible, the actual practice of the United Nations while still preserving the educational value of the simulation. We will explore some of these ideas in future blog posts, but for now, you can rest easy knowing that at AMUN, your delegation can abstain from any vote—substantive or procedural—because we leave off two simple words from our roll-call procedures.