Tips 21-30

Meeting Tip 21--Preferential Voting
Suppose your group has to choose between three alternatives (e.g., candidates for office, dates for a meeting, logo designs): A, B, C.  Suppose 5 members prefer A most, then B, then C (denoted 5:A>B>C), and 4:B>C>A, and 3:C>A>B.
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR) provides two ways to vote in such a case:  by ballot where any alternative can be selected, or on each alternative one at a time.  A ballot would result in 12 votes cast, 7 needed for adoption, 5 votes for A, 4 for B, 3 for C.  No alternative received the majority (more than half the votes cast) needed.  RONR says to vote again in such situations, and you can't remove the lowest vote-getter (p. 426-427).  With stubborn voters, the same result can be produced ad infinitum.  Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, Blue Book edition, p. 247, cites two cases where voting was repeated over 100 times before a decision was made.
Suppose you vote instead for one at a time, as RONR prescribes for "filling a blank."  You get a different result depending on the order in which you vote!  Whichever you vote for first will lose (as more than half prefer another alternative), leaving only two choices.  If A is voted on first, then B wins (9 prefer B over C).  If B is voted on first, C wins with 7 votes.  If C is voted on first, A wins with 8 votes.
Preferential voting (RONR, p. 411-413) can solve both dilemmas.  Voters rank their choices (preferences) on the ballot.  Five mark A as 1st choice, B as 2nd, C as 3rd.  Four mark B as 1st, C as 2nd, A as 3rd.  Three mark C as 1st, A as 2nd, B as 3rd.  One common way of counting such ballots is often called "instant runoff voting" because it simulates a series of runoff elections, each time dropping the lowest vote-getter, counting each ballot for the highest ranking choice still in the running.  In this scenario, round 1 has A with 5 votes, B with 4, C with 3.  No one has a majority, so C is dropped.  Round 2 has A with 8, B with 4, so A wins.  See <> for additional "ranked voting methods."
Preferential voting should be considered whenever mail voting is authorized, or there are more than two alternatives.  Preferential voting "can be used only if expressly authorized in the bylaws" (RONR, p. 411).
Meeting Myth
Myth:  The rules on voting in Robert's Rules of Order are comprehensive and sufficient for any situation.
Fact:  Robert's Rules of Order is intended for groups that meet in person, and its rules should be supplemented or superseded for other situations, including teleconference meetings and voting by mail.  In particular, where repeated balloting is not practical for mail voting, some additional rule (such as preferential voting) should be adopted by the organization to avoid incomplete elections.
Meeting Tip 22--Efficient Meetings
Tips to help make meetings efficient:
1. Start on time.
2. Have a detailed agenda listing all items of business known in advance, with wording of motions if known.
3. Set time limits for reports.
4. Ask officers and committee chairmen in advance if they have a report and if it includes any recommendations or motions.
5. Require all main motions and non-trivial secondary motions to be in writing.
6. Refer any time-consuming, delayable motions to a committee to perfect.
7. Limit debate to 2 or 3 minutes per speech and/or the total debate time per motion to __ minutes (requires a 2/3 vote).
8. Keep debate germane (relevant) and non-redundant.
9. Disallow (or closely limit) discussion when no motion has been made.
10. Use unanimous consent if no one speaks against a motion in debate. ("Is there any objection to the adoption of the motion? [pause] Since there is no objection [pause] the motion is adopted.")
11. Use voting cards instead of a rising (standing) vote, and don't count votes unless a visual (rising, or voting card) vote is questionable.
Meeting Myth
Myth:  When a meeting is a little "too" efficient and the assembly adopts a motion hastily that later is thought to be unwise, once adopted it is too late to do anything about it.
Fact:  The motions to Reconsider, Rescind and Amend Something Previously Adopted can often be used to remedy motions adopted too hastily.  See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised for rules on when and how these are applicable.
Meeting Tip 23--Nominating No-Nos
Based on Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, pp. 275-277 and 416-424:
No, you don't need to be "recognized" to make a nomination, and no, the nomination does not need to be seconded.
No, you can't nominate a second person for the same position.
No, you can't nominate more than one person to a committee or other multi-member body, if others are seeking to make their first nomination.
No, you don't have to have a person's permission before nominating him/her (but it's a good idea to get it anyway, as they can decline to be nominated).
No, a person doesn't have to be present to be nominated.
No, you don't have to be nominated to be elected (if you get a majority of the votes, even as a write-in).
No, you can't make a nomination if you don't have the right to make a motion.
No, there's no rule preventing the same person from being nominated for more than one office.
No, nominating committee members are not barred from being nominated.
No, the motion to close nominations "is not in order until a reasonable opportunity to make nominations has been given...[and] it is out of order if a member is seeking the floor to make a further nomination" (RONR, p. 277).
Meeting Myth
Myth:  You can't nominate yourself.
Fact:  Nothing in RONR precludes nominating yourself, but unless the chair is "begging" for volunteers and it is thus a last minute decision, it may imply that the member doesn't have a single friend willing to make the nomination.
Meeting Tip 24--Five Fatal Fumbles
Based on Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, pp. 275-277 and 416-424:
Most mistakes at meetings are not catastrophic.  For example, a lack of a second, or someone debating out of turn, are rule violations which must be rectified at the time of the breach, or it is too late.  But Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, p. 244 lists five types of breaches so serious that they can be pointed out at any time the breach still matters, and any action stemming from the violation is null and void.  Woe to the group making one of these five fatal fumbles when they can't fix the mistake until months or years later.  A fatal fumble occurs when:
"(a)  a main motion has been adopted that conflicts with the bylaws (or constitution) of the organization or assembly,*
(b)  a main motion has been adopted that conflicts with a main motion previously adopted and still in force, unless the subsequently adopted motion was adopted by the vote required to rescind or amend the previously adopted motion,
(c)  any action has been taken in violation of applicable procedural rules prescribed by federal, state, or local law,
(d)  any action has been taken in violation of a fundamental principle of parliamentary law (p. 255), or
(e)  any action has been taken in violation of either a rule protecting absentees or a rule protecting a basic right of an individual member (p. 255)."
Meeting Myth
Myth:  Any rule can be suspended.
Fact:  No rule whose violation would be a continuing breach can be suspended.  (Compare RONR p. 254-255 with p. 244.)
Meeting Tip 25--Debate, Discuss, Deliberate
Of the six steps in handling a motion (a member makes the motion, another seconds it, the chair states the motion, members debate it, the chair puts it to a vote, the chair announces the vote result), debate usually takes the most time. Speak in debate to persuade others to vote as you do.
A three-part speech format is useful: your position, your reason(s), your request. E.g., "I FAVOR the motion because ____. I urge members to vote FOR the motion." Or, "I OPPOSE the motion because ____. I urge members to vote AGAINST the motion."
Debate must be germane, relevant to the motion on the floor. It must relate to the issue or its merits, not to others' motives; be polite and gracious, even when you disagree. Address remarks to the presiding officer, even if rebutting someone else's statements.
The motion's maker can speak first in debate. Debate should alternate pro and con when possible. Speak at most twice per motion (per day), and let those seeking to speak their first time go before you speak a second time. Limit each speech to ten minutes. See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, p. 30, 373-380.
Meeting Myth
Myth:  The chair cannot speak in debate.
Fact:  The chair can speak in debate in small boards and committees (those with about 12 or fewer in attendance); see RONR p. 470-471. In other cases, "to participate in debate, [the chair] must relinquish the chair" to the highest-ranking vice president possible, or if necessary, to some other member approved by the assembly. The presiding officer "should not return to [the chair] until the pending main question has been disposed of" (RONR p. 382-383).
Meeting Tip 26--Gavels
A gavel and sounding block can add a useful degree of formality to meetings.  Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, says a single rap of the gavel may signal the start of a recess (p. 225) or the adjournment ending the meeting (p. 234).  Also, when minor violations of order occur, the "chair simply raps lightly, points out the fault, and advises the member to avoid" repeating the breach of order (p. 626).
The chair may not "gavel through" a motion (p. 374) to unilaterally cut off debate or secondary motions (such as Amend, Refer to a committee, or Postpone), nor use the gavel "to drown out a disorderly member" (p. 626).
The gavel may be ceremoniously presented to the incoming president, often at a formal installation of officers (p. 610).
Other uses, such as when calling a meeting to order or announcing the adoption of a motion, are up to each organization by custom or standing rule, and are not mentioned in RONR.
Gavels and sounding blocks can generally be purchased at trophy shops, and often have a gold band engraved with the organization's name.
Meeting Myth
Myth:  Three raps of the gavel call a meeting to order.
Fact:  Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised is silent on the use of a gavel to call a meeting to order at the beginning of a meeting or after a recess, but speaks of a single rap in the two instances where it gives a specific number of raps (p. 225, 234).  Some organizations, by custom or by rule, do open meetings with three raps of the gavel, but apart from such cases, a single rap would likely be more in keeping with the spirit of RONR, if it is used at all to open a meeting.  In no case should the gavel be used in a frantic or excessively loud manner to call a meeting to order.


Meeting Tip 27--Previous Notice

Previous notice is usually required for bylaws amendments (see bylaws for exact requirement). Changing previous action (e.g., rescind, amend something previously adopted, discharge a committee) requires previous notice to be adoptable by only a majority vote. Special rules of order are adopted and amended by previous notice and a two-thirds vote, or by a majority of the entire membership. See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, p. 116.
Previous notice "means that notice of the proposal to be brought up--at least briefly describing its substance--must be announced at the preceding meeting [if within the current month or preceding three months] or must be included in the 'call' of the meeting [a written notice of the meeting time and place sent to all members a reasonable or prescribed time in advance] at which it is to be considered" (RONR p. 4-5).
Motions needing previous notice can be amended without additional notice if within the scope of the notice. "Thus, if the bylaws place the annual dues of members at $10 and an amendment is pending to strike out 10 and insert 25, an amendment to change the 25 to any number between 10 and 25 would be in order, but an amendment to change the number to less than 10 or greater than 25 would be out of order, even with unanimous consent" (RONR p. 576, l. 30-36).

Meeting Myth

Myth:  Notice must have the exact language of the motion.
Fact:  "The notice should fairly inform the members of the changes contemplated" (RONR p. 578, l. 10).

Meeting Tip 28--Tellers
When a rising vote is counted in a large assembly, the chair should "appoint a convenient number of tellers--preferably an even number equally divided between members known to be in favor of the motion and those opposed to it," per Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, p. 49.
For ballot votes, "the chair appoints tellers to distribute, collect, and count the ballots, and to report the vote.... The tellers should be chosen for accuracy and dependability, should have the confidence of the membership, and should not have a direct personal involvement in the question" not common to other members (RONR p. 400).
The written tellers' report is read by the chairman of the tellers and handed to the chair, without declaring the result. The report should be patterned after one of these:
Number of votes cast: ___
Necessary for election: ___
(First candidate's name): ___
(Second name): ___
Illegal votes:
(Name), ineligible: ___
One pair of ballots for (name) folded together, rejected: ___
Number of votes cast: ___
Necessary for adoption (majority): ___
Votes FOR the motion: ___
Votes AGAINST: ___
Illegal votes:
One pair of 'NO' ballots folded together, rejected: ___
Meeting Myth
Myth:  It is OK to not announce the vote counts in a ballot election, so no one's feelings are hurt.
Fact:  The teller chairman (RONR p. 403, l. 4) and the chair of the meeting (p. 404, l. 5) both read the tellers' report (the counts), and the chair also declares the results (who won). "The tellers' report is entered in full in the minutes.... Under no circumstances should this be omitted...out of a mistaken deference to the feelings...of the losing side" (RONR p. 404, l. 9-14).


Meeting Tip 29--Voting by Mail
Voting by mail is invalid unless authorized in the bylaws or higher rule. It denies members the opportunity to amend and debate the motion. When allowed, such as for bylaw amendments or elections, the ballot may be secret or not.
A secret mail ballot should be mailed to each qualified voter with a self-addressed outer return envelope and an inner return envelope with a space for the voter's signature. The ballot may contain instructions, including a deadline, or these may be on a separate sheet. The ballot should be folded in a manner that preserves the privacy of the vote, once cast.
The person receiving the returned ballots brings them unopened to a tellers meeting for counting. Each inner envelope is checked against the mailing list of qualified voters, the voter is marked on the list as having voted, and the ballot is removed, kept folded, and put in a ballot box. After all envelopes are thus processed, the ballots are counted.
See Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, p. 409-411 for exception handling, and for procedures for non-secret mail balloting.
Meeting Myth
Myth:  Combining mail ballots for those who can't attend a meeting with the votes at a meeting is acceptable and beneficial.
Fact:  "An organization should never adopt a bylaw permitting a question to be decided by a voting procedure in which the votes of persons who attend a meeting are counted together with ballots mailed in by absentees. The votes of those present could be affected by debate, by amendments, and...repeated balloting" (RONR p. 409, l. 4-9).
Meeting Tip 30--Drafting Motions
Learning to draft an effective motion is perhaps the single most important way a member can significantly contribute to his/her organization.  It translates a fuzzy idea into what may become official group action or opinion.  It often requires some research, in order to be usefully specific.
Draft a motion prior to the meeting for each matter you think should be addressed.  Have paper and pen at meetings to write motions that occur to you there.
Model "action" motions:
* I move that we buy a new <brand> laptop computer with <features> at a total maximum cost of <cost>.
* I move that we buy a half-page advertisement in the <newspaper name> for <dates> for our workshop next month for at most <cost>.
Model "opinion" motion:
* I move that we adopt this resolution:  "Resolved, that <organization name> endorses the <matter> to be considered by the city council next week."
If you think action is warranted but don't know details needed in the motion, refer it to a committee:  I move that a committee of three be appointed by the president to report at our next meeting with a specific recommendation on purchasing a new laptop computer.
Meeting Myth
Myth:  It isn't necessary that a motion be written.
Fact: "A resolution or a long or complicated motion should be prepared in advance of the meeting, if possible, and should be put into writing before it is offered" (Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), p. 32).  "The chair - either on his own initiative or at the secretary's request - can require any main motion, amendment, or instructions to a committee to be in writing before he states the question." (RONR p. 38).