What is a Voice Vote?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In legislative bodies, a voice vote is a decision-making process in which those present make their opinions known orally as a group, rather than standing or dividing to be counted. This means that there is no formal record of who voted in support and voted against the measure under consideration. Voice votes are often used in small legislative bodies, but they also appear at the highest levels of government.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

When a voice vote is taken, the presiding officer says “all in favor,” and those in favor respond with “yeas” or “ayes.” Next, the presiding officer asks “all opposed,” and those opposed say “nay.” Legislators may also respond with “present,” which is viewed as an abstaining vote. The outcome of the vote is at the discretion of the presiding officer; if he or she thinks one side was noticeably in the majority, the result will be announced. Those who disagree with the judgment of the presiding officer may request a division, a more formal type of vote in which people are actually counted to determine the outcome of the vote.

There are a number of reasons to use a voice vote. Sometimes, a voice vote will be called for when a measure is not very controversial, because it's faster than a division. Small legislative bodies such as city councils may also use the voice vote system, because there are only a few members, and it's easy to tell which side has the most votes.

Sometimes, a voice vote will also be used in the case of a measure which is more controversial, because legislators appreciate the lack of a formal record which would tell people how they voted; in a sense, the voice vote acts as a political cover, allowing legislators to vote with their beliefs because they are less afraid of reprisals.

The “yeas” and “nays” of a voice vote are familiar to many people who are interested in the political process. Many student government groups also use the voice vote system to get members more engaged in the process of making decisions, and government classes which hold mock legislative sessions also tend to use the voice vote process in preference to written or anonymous voting. Political conventions may also use voice votes, usually in a rolling roll call which goes state by state, although delegates may move for a “vote by acclaim,” in which the entire convention is asked to vote as one.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@JaneAir - That's funny. I would never have thought of a bikini contest in connection with a political concept like the voice vote.

I personally think voice votes should only be used when the group is small enough you can tell who voted which way. I think it's pretty cowardly for politicians to hide their vote in a voice vote because they don't want anyone to know how they voted. I think we need more accountability in our political system!


@myharley - A healthy church is one where everyone agrees on everything? That's a pretty depressing attitude to me.

I have witnessed something like a voice vote in a bar bikini contest before. Instead of "yea's" and "nay's", the crowd was supposed to make noise only for the contestant that was their favorite. I personally think this is a pretty poor way of taking a vote on anything, because sometimes it isn't totally clear who had the most votes.

Either way, I suppose the outcome of a bikini contest isn't as serious as some of the votes a voice vote is used at.


Our church has an annual business meeting where we have to have a quorum of members present. At this meeting we vote for current elders among other matters that need to be passed by a church vote.

This vote is done by ballots that are filled out and counted during the meeting. The minutes of the previous years meeting are also read. I don't ever remember hearing a nay vote at one of these meetings.

I think this is a good indication of a healthy church. I have been to other church meetings where the atmosphere was not as friendly and we didn't stay very long.


We belong to a motorcycle club that has regular monthly meetings. While these meetings are not formal, we do follow certain rules of order.

Every month the minutes from the previous meeting are read by the secretary. The treasurer also stands and gives the current treasurers report.

After each of these are read, the president of our chapter tells us to 'voice your vote' whether you are in favor or opposed.

If there has been someone there who has disagreed I have never known about it, because nobody has ever voted contrary to what everyone else voted for.


Voice vote situations can be intimidating to someone who opposes a wildly popular idea. I didn’t think that the food club I was a member of should go out for raw oysters to celebrate our anniversary, but I felt weird voicing my opinion after seeing that everyone else wanted to go.

After everyone said, “Yea,” I could not bring myself to utter, “Nay.” So, against my better judgment, I went along. I ended up realizing my fear of getting seafood poisoning. I was very sick for days, but it made me resolve to stand up and be heard. These days, I don’t hesitate to disagree out loud.


My church has monthly board meetings. The members vote on things like whether to allot a certain amount of money to the flower fund, whether to organize a trip for the youth, and when to schedule church luncheons. They always use a voice vote.

After an option has been presented and the pros and cons weighed, the presiding officer will ask all those in favor of it to say, “Yes,” and all those opposed to say, “No.” It seems that usually, everyone tends to be in favor of everything. We don’t have much dissension in our church.

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