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Basics of Roberts Rules of Order with Comments

    By George Edwards, Vetted by Larry Richardson, Member of the National Association  

    of Parliamentarians and Chairman of The American Patriots Party

 

The bottom line in Roberts Rules of order [RRO] is “majority rules.” RRO details procedures which centuries of experience have shown are most conducive to that principle being realized in an orderly fashion. It provides for an organization to make its own bylaws which when approved by the membership take precedence over RRO wherever there is a conflict. It otherwise states that RRO prevails.

 

Unfortunately, it is possible in practice for someone claiming a detailed knowledge of RRO to make assertions, correct or not, which the lack of knowledge by others allows them to bully. I hope that I have captured enough of RRO here to help protect against such bullying.

 

Ideally, a parliamentarian will be available with RRO in hand to quietly advise the presiding officer or the assembly as to details at issue. The common sense of an assembly can reasonably over-rule application of a particular rule in a particular circumstance. RRO includes measures to allow this in a controlled fashion. Of course, strong individuals can and will still purposely or mistakenly mislead.

 

As to meetings, order is the joint responsibility of the assembly and the chairman of the meeting. General guidelines from RRO and other established rules of order follow:

  • One person at a time, one subject at a time, one meeting at a time

  • A negative vote on an action shall always be taken after the affirmative vote

  • A  ⅔  vote of the members present and voting is required to shut off debate (“call the previous question”)

  • A member can seek information (“point of information”} interrupting a speaker as the exception to the one person at a time guideline.

  • A motion can be separated into separate motions for discussion by majority vote (“division of the question”) to help meet the one subject at a time guideline

  • The chairman rules on all matters of order, perhaps quietly aided by a parliamentarian, but any member can protest the ruling of the chair and have it overturned by a majority vote

  • The chairman will attempt to recognize those seeking the floor in the order that they seek it except alternating between members known to be on opposite sides of a question

  • When there are strong personal differences on a question, members will address all comments to the chair.

As to chairman of a meeting specifically, the following are a bit more detailed guidelines that again accord with established rules of order and some personal comments:

 

I believe a reasonably “relaxed” but controlled approach works best for most meetings. RRO offers some such in what it calls informal meetings

 

  1. Pesent items in the order prescribed in the bylaws and a proposed agenda approved by the majority of the voting members in attendance

  2. Majority rules

  3. Anyone can make a motion when there is no other business on the floor.

  4. The chair generally recognizes whomever first “rises” [maybe raising a hand] to make a motion

  5. If the motion is seconded, it is open to amendment. If not, it may “fail for lack of a second.”

  6. If a motion is proposed by a parliamentary name, the chair should express it in every day language if there is any possibility it may not be understood.

  7. Once a main motion is “in play” it is the “property of the assembly” to be handled or disposed of as the assembly votes, or consents to, subject to the ruling of the chair and agreement by the assembly.

  8. If any member, “appeals the ruling of the chair,” the chair enquires as to the basis for the challenge, gives the reason for the ruling if he or she desires, and after allowable debate puts the appeal to a vote. Only the chair may speak more than once in such a debate. The chair may vote. A simple majority rules.

  9. The person making a motion should generally be the one first allowed to “speak to the motion.”

  10. If it becomes apparent that there are two “sides” with regard to a motion, the chair should attempt to alternate between representatives of the different sides

  11. Contrary to what one might assume, the “main motion” has the lowest precedence. That is, any amendments are to be disposed of by votes before the main amendment is voted upon. See the order of precedence of motions below or RRO for  a list of motions as to their order of precedence.

  12. No one should interrupt another speaker in the usual order of business [for exceptions see 17.], And, as a generality all comments should be addressed to the chair—although by general consent, it may work best to operate as a committee in which this is not required.

  13. Similarly, in a formal meeting, a particular person may be restricted to speak only twice, but this too can be foregone with general consent. As a practical matter, an individual, especially the maker of a motion or amendment should, in my opinion, be generally allowed to speak whenever a different objection is raised as to the main motion or amendment.

  14. Anyone can “call the question,” that is, request a vote to stop debate and bring the motion to the floor for an immediate vote. If seconded, the “call for the question” passes if 2/3 of those voting vote for it [i.e. it passes with a 2 to 1 vote by all those voting—a reason for always calling for the negative vote]. If it passes by that majority, the motion on the floor is brought to an immediate vote. Otherwise discussion on the motion on the floor continues.

  15. It is the responsibility of the chair, to do his or her best to ensure everyone is aware of exactly what they are voting upon—what a vote “for” a question precisely means. Formally, the chair is to “state the question before any vote” and to report the result of a vote.

  16. An amendment to an amendment in general makes things too complicated to understand. With the agreement of the moving parties, the original amendment could be restated to clarify or a substitute amendment moved and seconded.

  17. A motion may be broken into separate motions [“dividing the question”] for clarity and to reach the goal of handling only “one subject at a time.”

  18. A number of motions do not require debate to be voted upon—to name some: division of the question or division of the assembly, a motion to adjourn, lay on the table, consider by paragraph, and filling blanks.

19. Certain motions are allowed if someone already has the floor. Examples include:

      point of information, point of order at the time that a member believes that

      rules or procedures are being broken or ignored, appeal the ruling of the chair at

      the time of the ruling appealed and division of the assembly.

 

I believe following the above procedures will satisfy most reasonable people. Everything is subject to agreement with the bylaws that an organization has properly prepared and can be questioned if there is a believed disagreement with RRO. As a generality, the ruling of the chair controls if not overruled by a majority vote of those present as indicated above.

 

As to the members at a meeting specifically, the following are a bit more detailed guidelines that again accord with established rules of order and some personal comments:

  1. Majority rules

  2. Recognize elected officers and the chairman of a meeting have been chosen to establish order and their rulings should be generally accepted. However, when a member believes a ruling is contrary to RRO, law or an organization’s bylaws, a member has a right to raise a point of order if he or she does not feel it is counter-productive and to appeal the ruling of the chair. In doing so:

  1. the member must raise the point of order immediately when he or she believes it is in order—no second is required

  2. the member must appeal a ruling of the chair immediately after the chair has made a ruling for which he or she believes an appeal is in order—a second is required

  3. if a majority of the membership does not uphold the appeal, no further action by a member is in order

 

The order of precedence of motions follows with the highest precedence on top

[P denotes the motion is privileged, S denotes it is a subsidiary motion, U that the motion is undebatable, D that the motion is debatable]

  1. Fix the time to which to adjourn [when privileged as detailed in RRO], P and U

  2. Adjourn, [when privileged as detailed in RRO], P and U

  3. Recess, [when moved when a question is pending] P and U

  4. Raise a question of privilege, P and U

  5. Call for orders of the day, P and U

  6. Lay on the table, S and U

  7. Previous question, [immediately to close debate and making of subsidiary motions except Lay on the Table] S and U

  8. Limit or extend limits of debate, S and U

  9. Postpone to a certain time [or Postpone definitely], S and D

  10. Commit [or Refer], S and D

  11. Amend, S and D

  12. Postpone Indefinitely S and D

  13. MAIN MOTION, D

 

The following numbers refer to the specific motions, as numbered in the listing immediately above, that are out of order under the conditions indicated:

 

5. a motion to Suspend the Rules relating to the priority of business is pending

6. a Point of Order, undebatable Appeal or Request or Inquiry [except To Be Excused from a Duty]—not adhering to he main question—is pending

7. a motion which cannot be debated or amended is immediately pending

8. any undebatable question is immediately pending; also when motion(s) under an order for the Previous Question remain to be voted on

9. any undebatable question except Division of the Question or Consider by Paragraph or Seriatim is immediately pending; also when motion(s) under an order of the Previous Question are to be voted on

10. a motion to Reconsider is pending, or any undebatable question except Division of the Question or Consider by Paragraph or Seriatim is immediately pending; also when motion(s) under an order of the Previous question remain to be voted on

11. the application would be to the main question, and any motion except Postpone Indefinitely is pending; also, in any application, when motion(s) under order for the Previous Question remain to be voted on

12. any motion except the main question is pending; also when the Previous Question has been ordered

13. any motion is pending

 

Hopefully, the above listings will cover the most encountered situations that an organization will face. RRO also provides other details as to motions, disciplinary actions and recommendations, including such as for a membership organization’s bylaws