Introduction to Robert's Rules of Order
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By Shannon Pfarr Thompson, CAE, Vice President of Operations

What Is Parliamentary Procedure?

It is a set of rules for conduct at meetings that allows everyone to be heard and to make decisions without confusion.

Why is Parliamentary Procedure Important?

Because it is a time tested method of conducting business at meetings and public gatherings. It can be adapted to fit the needs of any organization. Today, Robert's Rules of Order is the basic handbook of operation for most clubs, organizations and other groups. So it's important that everyone know these basic rules!

Organizations using parliamentary procedure usually follow a fixed order of business.

Following is a typical example:

  1. Call to order.
  2. Roll call of members present.
  3. Reading of minutes of last meeting.
  4. Officer's reports.
  5. Committee reports.
  6. Special orders: Important business previously designated for consideration at this meeting.
  7. Unfinished business.
  8. New business.
  9. Announcements.
  10. Adjournment.

The method used by members to express themselves is in the form of moving motions. A motion is a proposal that the entire membership take action or a stand on an issue.

Individual members can:

  1. Call to order.
  2. Second motions.
  3. Debate motions.
  4. Vote on motions.

There are four Basic Types of Motions:

  1. Main Motions: The purpose of a main motion is to introduce items to the membership for their consideration. They cannot be made when any other motion is on the floor, and yield to privileged, subsidiary, and incidental motions.
  2. Subsidiary Motions: Their purpose is to change or affect how a main motion is handled, and they are voted on before a main motion.
  3. Privileged Motions: Their purpose is to bring up items that are urgent about special or important matters unrelated to pending business.
  4. Incidental Motions: Their purpose is to provide a means of questioning procedure concerning other motions and must be considered before the other motion.

How are Motions Presented?

  1. Obtaining the floor
    • Wait until the last speaker has finished.
    • Rise and address the Chairman by saying, "Mr. Chairman, or Mr. President."
    • Wait until the Chairman recognizes you.
  2. Make Your Motion
    • Speak in a clear and concise manner.
    • Always state a motion affirmatively. Say, "I move that we ..." rather than, "I move that we do not ...".
    • Avoid personalities and stay on your subject.
  3. Wait for Someone to Second Your Motion
  4. Another member will second your motion or the Chairman will call for a second.
  5. If there is no second to your motion it is lost.
  6. The Chairman States Your Motion
    • The Chairman will say, "it has been moved and seconded that we ..." Thus placing your motion before the member ship for consideration and action.
    • The membership then either debates your motion, or may move directly to a vote.
    • Once your motion is presented to the membership by the chairman it becomes "assembly property," and cannot be changed by you without the consent of the members.
  7. Expanding on Your Motion
    • Now is the time for you to speak in favor of your motion, rather than at the time you present it.
    • The mover is always allowed to speak first.
    • All comments and debate must be directed to the chairman.
    • Keep to the time limit for speaking that has been established.
    • The mover may speak again only after other speakers are finished, unless called upon by the Chairman.
  8. Putting the Question to the Membership
    • The Chairman asks, "Are you ready to vote on the question?"
    • If there is no more discussion, a vote is taken.
  9. On a motion to move, the previous question may be adapted.

Voting on a Motion:

The method of vote on any motion depends on the situation and the bylaws of policy of your organization. Five methods are used to vote by most organizations:

  1. By Voice -- The Chairman asks those in favor to say "aye", those opposed to say "no". Any member may move for an exact count.
  2. By Roll Call -- Each member answers "yes" or "no" as his/her name is called. This method is used when a record of each person's vote is required.
  3. By General Consent -- When a motion is not likely to be opposed, the Chairman says, "if there is no objection ..." The membership shows agreement by their silence. If even one member says, "I object," the item must be put to a vote.
  4. By Division -- This is a slight modification of a voice vote. It does not require a count unless the chairman so desires. Members raise their hands or stand.
  5. By Ballot -- Members write their vote on a slip of paper; this method is used when secrecy is desired.

Two other motions are commonly used that relate to voting.

  1. Motion to Table -- This motion is often used in an attempt to "kill" a motion. The option is always present, however, to "take from the table," for reconsideration by the membership.
  2. Motion to Postpone Indefinitely -- This is often used as a means of parliamentary strategy and allows opponents of a motion to test their strength without an actual vote being taken. Also, debate is once again open on the main motion.

Parliamentary Procedure is the best way to get things done at your meetings. But it will only work if you use it properly.

  1. Allow motions that are in order.
  2. Have members obtain the floor properly.
  3. Speak clearly and concisely.
  4. Obey the rules of debate.
  5. Most importantly, BE COURTEOUS.

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