Commonly Asked Questions – And Often Misunderstood Answers
By Dr. Leonard Young, Parliamentarian for Missouri PTA (an excerpt from a workshop handout presented at the Missouri PTA 2010 Convention).
1. Can the chairman vote?
If a member, the chairman has the right to vote, and does so in small boards of not more than about a dozen members present. In larger assemblies, the chairman (who has a duty to maintain an appearance of impartiality) may vote when his vote would affect the outcome: to make or break a tie or to make or prevent a two-thirds vote, or when the vote is by ballot (at the same time as everybody else). For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 392-393.
2. Can the chairman make motions?
Yes, the chairman, if a member, has the same RIGHT to make a motion as any other member. In small boards of not more than about a dozen members present, the chairman usually participates in the same way that other members do. However, in larger assemblies, the chairman has a duty to remain impartial, so would usually not make a motion directly. The chairman could say, for example, “The chairman will entertain a motion to…” and then wait for a member to make it, or “Is there a motion to suspend the rules that interfere with hearing the speaker at this time?” The chairman may also assume a motion, as in: “If there are no [further] corrections, the minutes stand approved as read [as corrected].” or “If there is no further business to come before the meeting, this meeting will now adjourn. [pause] Hearing none, this meeting is adjourned.” Without actually directly making a motion, the chair can accomplish pretty much the same thing without blatantly compromising his or her impartiality. Another option is to ask someone before the meeting to make a motion that the chair wishes to be considered. Accepting the job of chairman does not remove any rights as a member. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 470-471, 343, 210, 234, 490.
3. Can the chairman enter into debate?
In small boards of not more than about a dozen members present, yes. In larger assemblies, if the chairman wishes to debate, he/she should relinquish the chair to the vice president or another member, until the matter is disposed of, before resuming the chair. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 470-471,
4. Can an ex-officio member vote, make motions, or debate?
Yes, the term “ex officio”, when no written rule addresses it otherwise, refers to how a member becomes part of a particular body, not a “class” of membership. It tells how one becomes a member (by virtue of the office), not what their rights are. If the rights of ex-officio members are to be restricted, that must be done in the bylaws. Otherwise, ex-officio members have the same rights as elected or appointed members. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 466-467.
5. Can bylaws be suspended?
Only bylaws that are in clearly in the nature of rules of order or that contain a clause that clearly provide for its own suspension may be suspended. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. p. 17.
6. Can a member of the nominating committee be nominated?
Yes. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. p. 419.
7. Can a member nominate themselves for an office?
Yes. There is no rule in RONR 10th ed. that prevents it.
8. Can nominees vote for themselves?
Yes. There is no rule in RONR 10th ed. that prevents it.
9. Must the President, if nominated, step down from the chair during the election?
No. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 436.
10. If the bylaws require a ballot vote be this requirement be suspended if there is only one nominee for each office?
No, such a bylaw cannot be suspended even by a unanimous vote or unanimous consent. If you wish for this provision to be possible, put it in your bylaws. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 255 and 244.
11. What is a write-in vote?
During a ballot vote, a member may write a name on the ballot, which is a vote for that person, rather than voting for a candidate whose name already appears on the ballot. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 427.
12. The President has resigned, now what?
Generally, the Vice-President automatically becomes the President for the remainder of the term of the President. However, the bylaws should specify what is done in case of a vacancy. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 442.
13. Are mail-in or telephone votes okay?
No, not unless authorized by the bylaws. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 469-470.
14. When somebody calls out “Question!” must debate cease?
No. A member who wishes debate to be closed should wait to be recognized by the chairman and then move the Previous Question, not just shout it out from their seat. If recognized and seconded, this motion is not debatable, and requires a two-thirds vote to be adopted. If adopted, debate and further amendment of the pending question cease and a vote is taken on the immediately pending question. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 189-201.
15. How long can a member speak in debate?
Ten minutes, unless he obtains the consent of the assembly to speak longer. This requires a two-thirds vote. A member may speak a second time for 10 minutes if no one is claiming the floor who has not yet spoken for the first time. Organizations that want to limit debate should adopt a special rule of order limiting the length or number of speeches. Such a rule requires a two-thirds vote for adoption. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 41.
16. Do nonmembers have a right to attend or speak at meetings?
No, nonmembers have no rights to the proceedings. However, a request can be granted to attend by a majority vote or unanimous consent, but it requires a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules to allow a nonmember to speak in debate. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 255, 625.
17. Do members who are not members of the Board of Directors have a right to be present or speak at board meetings?
No. See the answer to #17, as nonmembers of the Board have no rights to the proceedings of the Board.
18. Do members of an organization have access to the minutes of the Board of Directors?
The Board may grant an individual member’s request to inspect the minutes, or by a two-thirds vote or by a vote of a majority of the entire membership, the organization can order the minutes to be produced and read at a meeting, or by a majority vote if previous notice is given. For more information, refer to RONR
10th ed. pp. 470.
19. Should the name of the person seconding a motion be recorded in the minutes?
No. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 451-456.
20. If a motion has been defeated, can it be brought up again at the next meeting?
Yes, if the meeting is a different session, which is the normal situation, in other than governmental legislative bodies. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 325-331.
21. Can a meeting be adjourned if there is still business pending?
Yes. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 225-226.
22. Who decides what is on the meeting Agenda?
The members at a meeting may adopt an agenda by a majority vote, and may amend it prior to its adoption. After it is adopted, an amendment to the Agenda requires a two-thirds vote, or a vote of a majority of the entire membership, or unanimous consent. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 360-363.
23. What is a quorum?
It is the minimum number of members who must be present at a meeting in order to conduct business. This number is usually specified by the bylaws. If not specified in the bylaws, then in most societies a quorum is a majority of the entire membership. In a body of delegates, a quorum is a majority of the members registered as attending. In organizations without a reliable register of members, a quorum at a regular or properly called meeting is those who attend. In a mass meeting, a quorum is those persons present at the time. For more
information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 334-335.
24. How do you count abstentions? As ayes? As no’s?
In the usual case, abstentions are not counted. They are not “votes” technically. In a room of 100 people, a vote of 1-0 [one affirmative and zero negative] is legitimate, and renders a binding decision. Also, a vote of 1-0 in room of 100 people is technically a “unanimous vote” because there was no vote in opposition. However, if the bylaws specify “a majority of those PRESENT” or “two-thirds of those PRESENT”, instead of “PRESENT AND VOTING”, then an abstention has the same effect as a negative vote. (This language is generally undesirable; as it denies a member the right to maintain a neutral position by abstaining.) For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. p. 394 and p. 390.
25. What is a majority? Fifty-one percent? Fifty percent plus one?
The word “majority” means “more than half.” The false definition “51%” only applies to assemblies of exactly 100; the false definition of “50% + 1” is only true for even numbers, and false for odd numbers. For more information, refer to RONR 10th ed. pp. 387.
26. When nominations for offices are being taken from the floor, and in a situation in which the office calls for more than one person to be elected, can a member make a nomination for more than one person at the same time?
Yes — unless nobody objects. For more information, refer to RONR (10th ed.), p. 418, l. 6-11.
27. Can a member vote on or second a motion to approve the minutes of a
meeting that he did not attend?
Yes. There is no requirement in Robert’s Rules of Order that a member must
have first-hand knowledge before voting on minutes or other motions. In fact, a
motion need not be made regarding the approval of the minutes. The chair says,
“Are there any corrections to the minutes?” Members may offer corrections, and
when there are no further corrections forthcoming, the chair says, “If there are
no further corrections to the minutes, they stand approved as corrected… the
next item of business is…” or if no corrections are offered, “If there are no
corrections to the minutes, they stand approved as read… the next item of
business is…” Note that there is no second involved in this process. For more
information, refer to RONR (10th ed.), pp. 343-344.
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