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In most organizations that hold votes, any controversial or close vote is counted precisely, and only the non-controversial or landslide votes are allowed to be handled by a show of hands or ayes-and-nays. A common pattern is to start with a show of hands, and then if it's at all close or if there are calls for a counted vote, to then proceed to a counted vote.

Not so with the UK Labour party, it seems. The Guardian reports that at the Labour party conference on 23 September 2019, it rejected Composite 13 by a show of hands, despite calls for a counted vote. Their video makes this process look somewhat haphazard.

(Composite 13 was the motion which would have committed the Labour party to campaign for the UK to remain in the European Union.)

Does the Labour party conference have rules about when a counted vote is required? If so, were they followed?

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Here's the Labour Party's constitution: http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Rule-Book-2019.pdf

The relevant section is Chapter 3, Clause III, Rule 3 - Procedural Rules for the Party Conference, voting. The rule begins:

Voting at Party conference on resolutions, reports, amendments, proposals and references back shall be by show of hands or, when the conditions laid down by the CAC require it, by card.

The CAC is the Conference Arrangements Committee, which is detailed in Clause II of the same document. At the start of the conference they present a report detailing Standing Orders of how the conference will run. The 2019 one is here. The relevant section is Appendix 5, Section 5.B.i - Voting on Resolutions:

Voting on resolutions, reports, proposals and references back shall be by show of hands. Where a show of hands is unclear a card vote can be called at the discretion of the Chair. A card vote is intended to resolve a position where a show of hands is not decisive, to establish the exact breakdown of votes when the majority is of procedural significance (eg two-thirds required) or on a challenge to the Chair.

So it seems to me that the rule for the 2019 conference on when a vote is required to be counted is whenever the chair decides to call one. In this instance, she didn't. So probably the letter of the rule was not breached. I would note however that the same section makes it clear that the possibility of a counted vote is intended to resolve problems where the show of hands is not decisive, or where there's a challenge to the chair. Both of those scenarios occurred; the vote was close enough for the chair to initially call it one way and her colleagues to disagree, and there were challenges from both the floor and subsequent speakers.

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  • Hm. What is the meaning of "or on a challenge to the Chair"? Does the Chair have the discretion to ignore the challenges? If so, is the phrase "or on a challenge to the Chair" vacuous? – krubo Oct 1 '19 at 13:52
  • @Krubo as in, when someone says the the chair either "That vote didn't go the way you said it went" or "That was really close, I want a card vote to be certain". The rule is clear that the chair has discretion to ignore the request for a card vote, but it's not vacuous - the problem with making such processes mandatory is that they're then abused to filibuster. If anyone could force a card vote, they would force EVERY vote to be a card vote. Of course, leaving things to the chair's discretion does require that the chair actually be impartial. – Dan Scally Oct 1 '19 at 14:38

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