Meeting Tip 31--When A Two-Thirds Vote is Needed
Under Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th edition, "the basic requirement for approval of an action or choice by a deliberative assembly, except where a rule provides otherwise, is a majority vote," that is, "more than half of the votes cast by persons legally entitled to vote, excluding blanks or abstentions, at a regular or properly called meeting at which a quorum is present" (p. 387).
But a two-thirds vote is needed to close debate, nominations or the polls, and to set different limits for debate (RONR standard limits are two speeches per motion per day per person, and 10 minutes per speech, p. 41). Two-thirds is also required to expel from membership, and to suspend the rules.
When previous notice has not been given, it takes a two-thirds vote to amend something previously adopted or to rescind it, and to remove an officer from office (when a trial is not required). See RONR tinted page 46 (just before the index).
Myth: You always need two-thirds to suspend the rules.
Fact: An ordinary standing rule that does not relate to parliamentary procedure (e.g., that members shall wear name badges at meetings) may be suspended in a meeting context by a majority vote (RONR p. 256-257).
A convention standing rule (which may be either administrative or procedural) "can be suspended for a particular purpose by a majority vote," but where it was superseding a rule in the parliamentary authority ( e.g., RONR), that book's rule becomes effective (unless also suspended by a two-thirds vote); see RONR p. 602.
Meeting Tip 32--Charitable Chairing
When a member makes a motion that is not in order, it is the duty of the chair to rule it out of order and explain why. The chair can stop there, but that would leave most members confused about how to properly pursue accomplishing their aim. Instead, the chair can earn the respect and trust of members by suggesting a motion or procedure that would be in order that could accomplish the member's intent.
For example, a member moves "to table the pending motion until next month's meeting." Callously the chair could say, "The motion is not in order. The motion to table cannot specify a time to resume consideration, and is not in order unless there is an urgent matter needing immediate attention. Is there any further discussion on the pending motion?"
Instead, focusing on the member's intent, the chair could likely reply, "The motion to table to a specified time is not in order, but a motion to postpone the pending motion until next month's meeting would be in order. Does the member wish to make this motion instead?" Such assistance by the chair engenders members' confidence that the chair is fair and trustworthy. It encourages member participation, and builds a stronger organization.
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), p. 37, puts it this way: "When a member...offers a motion which is not in order, the chair may be able...to suggest an alternative motion which would be in order and would carry out the desired intent to the satisfaction of the maker."
Myth: When a member words a motion in an incorrect form, the chair can simply reword it to put it into correct form, with no approval needed from the member.
Fact: The motion's mover does need to approve the chair's change to the motion. "If a motion is offered in a wording that is not clear or that requires smoothing..., it is the duty of the chair to see that the motion is put into suitable form--preserving the content to the satisfaction of the mover--before the question is stated" (RONR p. 38).
Meeting Tip 33--Sample Meeting Script
Chair: The meeting will come to order. The secretary will read the minutes. (Afterwards...) Are there any corrections? (pause) Hearing none, the minutes are approved as read.
Next is the treasurer's report.
Treasurer: Our bank balance is currently $_____. $____ of that is obligated for payments this month.
Chair: Are there any questions? (pause)
Next is the Program Committee report.
Committee chairman: (Report given.) By direction of the committee, I move that ____.
Chair: It has been moved that ____. Is there any objection? (pause) Hearing none, the motion is adopted.
Is there any new business? (Member stands) The chair recognizes Mr. ___.
Member: I move that we buy a gavel for no more than $30. (Sits down)
Chair (after another member says, "Second!"): It has been moved and seconded that we buy a gavel for no more than $30. Are you ready for the question? (Debate) The question is on the adoption of the motion that we buy a gavel for no more than $30. All in favor say "aye." (pause) All opposed say "no." (pause) The Ayes have it, the motion carries, and we will buy the gavel.
Is there any more new business? (pause) Hearing none, the meeting is adjourned.
Myth: The assembly should vote on approving the treasurer's report at each meeting.
Fact: "No action of acceptance by the assembly is required--or proper--on a financial report of the treasurer unless it is of sufficient importance, as an annual report, to be referred to auditors." -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p. 461.
Meeting Tip 34--Disciplinary Procedures
"Although ordinary societies seldom have occasion to discipline members, an organization or assembly has the ultimate right to make and enforce its own rules, and to require that its members refrain from conduct injurious to the organization or its purposes" (Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 10th ed., p. 624).
In any society, behavior "tending to injure the good name of the organization, disturb its well-being, or hamper it in its work" is subject to disciplinary action (p. 630).
For offenses at meetings, a disorderly nonmember may be expelled by the ruling of the chair (p. 625), and a disorderly member may be warned, "called to order," and "named" (charges are made) by the chair, but only the assembly may impose a penalty (p. 626-627). A penalty could require an apology, censure, remove from the meeting for its duration (or until ready to apologize), suspend membership rights for a period, or, with a two-thirds vote, expel from membership (p. 627-628).
For offenses elsewhere than at a meeting, a trial is necessary. RONR p. 629-641 provides detailed procedures.
Myth: If the presiding officer violates the rules and ignores your points of order or appeals, there unfortunately is nothing you can do about it.
Fact: "If the chair at a meeting ignores a motion apparently made and seconded in good faith, and neither states the question on the motion nor rules it out of order, the maker of the motion should raise a Point of Order covering the case, and from the chair's decision he can Appeal. If the chair also ignores the point of order, the member can repeat the motion; and if it is seconded and the chair still ignores it, the maker of the motion can himself put it to a vote standing in his place." -- RONR p. 642.
Meeting Tip 35--Update Your Bylaws
Are your bylaws out of sync with the way your organization operates, or with your parent organization or corporate law? It may help to have a bylaws committee review the governing documents: articles of incorporation (if incorporated), (constitution and) bylaws, and any special rules of order or standing rules, sometimes called policies and procedures.
Compare your documents for internal consistency, and consistency with higher level documents (law, articles of incorporation, parent organization rules). Compare your documents with those of similar organizations, and with any model documents your parent organization may provide.
Compare your list of articles with those suggested in various manuals on parliamentary procedure. See lists from 10 such manuals at http://paulmcclintock.com/bylawarticles.htm.
Your bylaws should provide for a parliamentary authority (PA) such as the current edition of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), or The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure. If so, the bylaws don't need to provide for as much detail, if you are okay with the default rules in your PA. For example, you don't have to specify how vacancies will be filled if RONR is your PA.
Do new officers begin terms when elected (RONR default), or at the end of the meeting/session where elected? Do bylaws require a ballot vote for elections? If you want to permit waiving that requirement when only one person is nominated, the bylaws need to say so.
Want a professional parliamentarian to review your bylaws and report on suggested changes? Contact the National Association of Parliamentarians (1-888-NAP-2929, www.parliamentarians.org/getreferral.php) or the American Institute of Parliamentarians (1-888-664-0428, www.AIPparl.org) for referrals.
Myth: If your bylaws don't have a provision for amending the bylaws, you can't amend them.
Fact: First, check all higher governing documents (e.g., constitution, articles of incorporation, corporate law) for rules on amending bylaws. Second, if RONR applies, bylaws "can be amended at any business meeting by a two-thirds vote, provided that previous notice...has been given; or, without notice, they can be amended at any regular meeting by vote of a majority of the entire membership" (p. 562).
Meeting Tip 36--Making Decisions When You Can't Meet In Person
Does your organization need to be able to make binding decisions when in-person meetings are impractical?
If incorporated, check your corporation law for rules regarding teleconference meetings and decision making without meetings.
"Efforts to conduct the deliberative process by postal or electronic mail or facsimile (fax) transmission--which are not recommended--must be expressly authorized by the bylaws and should be supported by special rules of order and standing rules as appropriate, since so many situations unprecedented in parliamentary law may arise and since many procedures common to parliamentary law are not applicable (see pp. 482-83)." -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR) p. 2.
"The bylaws may authorize a board or committee (or even a relatively small assembly) to meet by videoconference or teleconference. If they do, then such a meeting must be conducted by a technology that allows all persons participating to hear each other at the same time (and, if a videoconference, to see each other as well). The opportunity for simultaneous communication is central to the deliberative character of the meeting, and is what distinguishes it from attempts to do business by postal or electronic mail or by fax (see p. 2). It is advisable to adopt special rules of order and standing rules, as appropriate, to specify precisely how recognition is to be sought and the floor obtained during videoconferences and teleconferences." -- RONR pp. 482-83.
Consider amending bylaws to create an executive board or committee with power to act between the larger body's regular meetings. Such a board or committee should be able to meet in person, or it should be authorized in bylaws to meet by teleconference. And it should be able to meet at the call of the president, and by petition of a specified number or percentage of members of the board/committee.
If changing the bylaws is not feasible, consider (a) making the preliminary, unofficial decision via e-mail or internet chat room or by telephone, and ratifying it at the next in-person meeting to make it official; or (b) delegating the decision to a small committee that can feasibly meet in person. A group should rarely depend on the ratification approach; its use generally indicates poor planning or organization, and it may happen that the assembly asked to ratify a decision won't do it.
Myth: It's okay to make decisions by e-mail if no one objects.
Fact: "Any action [that] has been taken in violation of a fundamental principle of parliamentary law" is a breach "of a continuing nature" (RONR p. 244), and "it is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law that the right to vote is limited to the members of an organization who are actually present at the time the vote is taken in a legal meeting" (p. 255). A point of order can be made at any time the breach continues (p. 244), so even though no member currently objects, at any time in the future members may change their minds or new members may think differently, and raise a point of order to nullify such decisions. Only bylaws or a higher ranking document can authorize such a procedure.
Meeting Tip 37--When You Can't Vote
"If the presiding officer is a member..., he has the same voting right as any other member. Except in a small board or committee, however--unless the vote is...by ballot--the chair protects his impartial position by exercising his voting right only when his vote would affect the outcome." RONR p. 50.
"A member of an assembly who acts as its parliamentarian has the same duty as the presiding officer to maintain a position of impartiality, and therefore does not make motions, participate in debate, or vote on any question except in the case of a ballot vote." RONR p. 451.
Ex officio members of boards and committees have all the rights of membership, including the right to make
motions and vote. RONR p. 466.
Myth: A member with a direct personal or pecuniary interest in a motion cannot vote on it.
Fact: "No member should vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the organization. For example, if a motion proposes that the organization enter into a contract with a commercial firm of which a member of the organization is an officer and from which contract he would derive personal pecuniary profit, the member should abstain from voting on the motion. However, no member can be compelled to refrain from voting in such circumstances." RONR p. 394.