Robert’s Rules of Order were written by an engineer in the U.S. Army after a failed attempt to preside over a public meeting. The rules have become a handbook for non-profit groups, student assemblies and other organizations, providing guidance on who, when and how members speak about and vote on decisions. All members need to understand these rules, which can get complicated, before the meeting begins. Proper recording of decisions is fundamental for organizations to move forward.
Getting to a Vote
Before voting takes place, a motion must be introduced and seconded. The minutes of the meeting usually record the names of those making and seconding motions. After discussion, a member can call the question, meaning he asks the chairman for a vote. Again, this requires someone to second the motion, and is also attributed. Before a vote can occur, there must be quorum, as defined in the organization’s bylaws.
Methods of Voting
There are multiple ways groups can vote on a motion. Some methods require counting votes, such as asking everyone to say "yes" or "no." An exact count can be optional and only conducted when requested by a member (for example, by voice, or saying "aye" or "no") or by the chairman (for example, by division, asking people to stand or raise their hand). For less contentious issues, the speaker can call a vote by general consent by asking if there are objections.
Each organization’s bylaws will have rules determining the size of a majority required to pass a motion. For administrative items, often a simple majority is sufficient. However, two-thirds majorities can be required for substantial changes to the organization’s structure or bylaws. The minutes must be clear which type of majority the decision requires.
The President, or head, of the organization has the same rights as other members. However, he cannot vote, to maintain impartiality, unless the vote is by ballot or if the vote will affect the outcome. Ex-officio members can vote like all other members as long as they are members in good standing. Proxy votes, or votes cast by someone attending in place of an absent member, are not counted, unless deemed acceptable by the bylaws.
Other Items to Record
The meeting minutes need to record how many voted "yes" and "no," as well as how many members abstained from the vote. Also record if the motion passes. Generally, the minutes reflect the outcome of the meeting, not the discussion. It is important to be very clear on the results of the vote, not the conversation beforehand.
Maggie Allen is a political science doctoral student and a trained facilitator of environmental conflicts. She has traveled extensively for her work and began writing on these experiences in 2006, including policy papers for international organizations. She holds a Master of Arts in international development from the University of Guelph and a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Northern British Columbia.