Parliamentary Procedure

What is Parliamentary Procedure?

Parliamentary Procedure, also known as Rules of Order, is a formal way to conduct meetings with fairness and decorum. Most often, Robert’s Rules of Order is used as an organization’s Parliamentary Procedure.

What is Robert’s Rules of Order?

Robert’s Rules of Order is a manual that has been adopted by nonprofit associations, professional societies, trade unions, and other organizations to govern their meetings. It dates back to the mid-1800s when an Army officer named Henry Martyn Robert was asked to preside over a chaotic public meeting. To prevent this kind of chaos, the first edition of Robert’s Rules of Order was published in 1876. The manual has been revised over the decades to meet the needs of the times and is now in its 12th edition.

Why is Parliamentary Procedure important?

By using Robert’s Rules of Order, all members at a meeting are guaranteed the same right to speak following an “order of business,” which structures a meeting to ensure all matters are addressed in an orderly manner. It also provides a process for effective and fair decision-making. 

In addition, Parliamentary Procedure: 

  • Ensures that all members have the same right to vote.
  • Ensures that all members have the same right to participate in meetings at all levels.
  • Provides a decision-making process that can be trusted.
  • Provides a process for effective and efficient decision-making.
  • Operates under the idea of majority rule while still acknowledging and respecting minority opinion. 

What types of motions can be made in a meeting, and how does a member propose a motion?

A motion is a formal proposal by a member at a meeting to take a certain action. Keep in mind that the following are only basic descriptions of each type of motion and do not include details about whether a motion must be seconded, if it is debatable, if it can be appealed, or other special provisions.

Main Motion: This motion brings a new piece of business or proposes a decision or action to the assembled members at the meeting. A majority vote is required for a main motion to pass.

After recognition:Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move that [motion statement], or “I move to [motion statement].” These words are important. A member can’t say “I think” or “I so move.” These are not proper motions and make the entire motion invalid.  

Postpone Indefinitely: This motion is used to kill a motion on the table. It may be brought up again at a later date. A majority vote is required to postpone a motion.  

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move to postpone the question indefinitely.”

Amend: This motion is used to alter a motion (add, remove, remove and add, substitute a paragraph or the entire motion). The amendment must be germane, meaning it involves the same question as the motion to which it applies. All amendments require a majority vote. 

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move that the motion be amended to [i.e. add the following words; remove the following words; etc.].”

Refer to Committee: This motion sends a main motion and all adhering motions to committee. This can be a standing or special committee, or a motion can create a committee. Referral to committee requires a majority vote.

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move that the question/issue/motion be referred to a committee made up of members [names],” or “I move that the question/issue/motion be referred to the [name of committee].” 

Postpone Definitely: This motion puts off an issue for a specific time. Postpone definitely requires a majority vote. 

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move to postpone the question until _____.”

Limit or Extend Debate: This motion is used to change the time allotted for debate on a motion. A motion to limit debate is done if a lengthy amount of time is given to a discussion or if meeting time is limited. A motion to extend debate is used to make sure discussion on a motion is not cut short. Limiting or extending debate requires a two-thirds vote. 

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, “I move that debate be limited to [i.e. one speech of two minutes for each member].” Or: “I move that the speaker’s time be extended [i.e. three minutes].”

Previous Question: This motion is also known as “calling the question,” “close debate,” “calling for a vote,” or other similar wording. It is used to end debate on a motion and bring it to an immediate vote. A motion to call the question requires a two-thirds vote. If passed, the motion on the floor is voted on immediately.

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move the previous question,” or “I move we vote immediately on the motion.”

Lay on the Table: This motion is used to lay aside a motion temporarily while something of greater priority is addressed. i.e. Your speaker arrived and only has a limited amount of time, or you are waiting for someone to arrive. If a motion is laid on the table and not taken off the table by the next meeting, then the motion is killed. 

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move to lay the question on the table,” or “I move that the motion be laid on the table.”

Appeal from the Decision of the Chair: This motion causes the ruling of the chair to be decided by the assembly. Appeal from the decision of the chair has to be a tie or majority vote for the chair to win.

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I appeal from the decision of the chair.”

Reconsider: This is a motion to bring back a motion that’s been previously decided. It must be made on the same day as the meeting in which the motion to be reconsidered was decided. It can only be made by a member who voted in the majority on the original motion. This can happen when a member receives new information that changes their mind on the issue. A motion to reconsider requires a majority vote. 

After recognition: “Madame/Mister Chairperson, I move to reconsider.”

Point of Order: This motion can only be used to call attention to a potential Parliamentary fault or other rule violation during a meeting. The chair rules on points of order.

The member rises and says: “I rise to a point of order,” or “Point of order.” The chair recognizes the member, who then states the point of order.

Adjourn: This motion ends the meeting. It requires a majority vote.

After recognition: “I move to adjourn.”