Motions: Building-Blocks of Your Meeting

By PCB Parliamentary Team


Unless your chapter or special interest affiliate has cited a different procedural authority in its governing documents, your meetings should be governed by the latest version of Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules of Order is a manual that sets forth the rules of parliamentary procedure. These rules help people to run orderly and productive meetings; however, arguments about the rules can make meetings overly complicated, with various factions making claims and counter-claims and no one having a complete understanding of the rules. Therefore, it is important for your chapter or special interest affiliate to have a parliamentarian.


Your parliamentarian can be your secretary or someone who volunteers for the post. They can also be appointed. There are many “cheat sheets” on the internet that explain Robert’s Rules of Order using simple examples. The parliamentarian is an umpire, not a dictator. A parliamentarian’s ruling can be ignored, but if that happens, you then open up any decision to be questioned or challenged.


The most basic rule in Robert’s Rules of Order is how a matter is presented, discussed, and voted on. This is the building block of everything that goes on at your meeting. Without this basic process, your meeting can break down into chaos, confusion, and rancor. The bedrock rule is that nothing can be discussed or debated without a motion being made and seconded. Here is the basic process which should be recorded in your minutes:


Step 1: When there is no business before the body, a member gets the attention of the chair (usually the president).


Step 2: The chair recognizes the member.


Step 3: The member rises to take the floor and makes a motion. They use the phrase, “I move that…”


Step 4: The chair determines if the motion is in a proper form. If it is not phrased properly or is unclear, the chair asks for clarification or rewording. Once the motion is phrased properly, the chair asks for a second of the motion.

Step 5: If there is a second (another member says, “I second the motion”), the chair acknowledges it and discussion may proceed. If there is no second, the chair acknowledges the lack of a second, the motion dies, and there may not be any discussion on the topic unless and until there is another motion.


Step 6: The chair then presides over discussion of the motion that has been duly made and seconded. The chair strives to give everyone a chance to speak, but also works to keep discussion civil, focused, and moving forward. The person taking the minutes should focus on the main points being raised rather than on the personalities involved or any irrelevant asides.


Step 7: During discussion, the chair may entertain various motions from the body. These will be discussed in a future article.


Step 8: When the discussion has run its course, i.e., no other member wishes to speak, or when the chair determines that the discussion has gone on long enough, the chair may call the question and ask for a vote.


Step 9: The chair asks, “All in favor of the motion to [repeat the wording of the motion], say ‘aye.’” The ayes are duly noted. The chair then asks, “All opposed to the motion to [repeat the wording of the motion], say ‘nay.’” The nay votes are duly noted. Finally, the chair asks, “All abstaining to vote on the motion to [repeat the wording of the motion], say ‘aye.’” The abstentions are duly noted. Note: abstentions are not counted when determining whether a majority has voted to approve or defeat the motion.


Step 10: The chair announces the result of the vote, i.e., the aye votes have a sufficient majority and the motion is approved and the chapter or special interest affiliate is bound by that vote, or the nays have a sufficient majority and the motion is defeated. For example: there are 20 members in good standing: 8 vote aye, 7 vote nay, and 5 abstain. The motion passes. However, a tie vote means the motion is defeated, i.e., 8 ayes, 8 nays, and 4 abstentions result in a defeat of the motion. The vote is duly noted in the minutes.


It should be noted that Robert’s Rules of Order and some organizations allow the chair (e.g., the president) to delay a vote until the general votes are counted. In such a case, the president could break a tie to either approve or defeat a motion or defeat a motion by casting a nay vote to create a tie that defeats the motion. Presidents are strongly urged to use this procedure very sparingly, especially since it will only come up in close votes where the body is almost equally divided. In the end, the president will be better off abstaining and let the matter be decided by the body.


The process discussed above might seem overly convoluted, but once your chapter or special interest affiliate gets into the habit of following this basic procedure, your meetings will be quicker, friendlier, and more productive.

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