To the board meeting newcomer, following parliamentary procedure can seem cumbersome, unwieldy and overly bureaucratic. But as any veteran board member can attest, there’s a reason organizations have been using it since 1876 or so when Brigadier General Henry M. Robert, an army engineering officer, decided to write “Robert’s Rules of Order,” to codify procedures for meetings.

Most boards use a parliamentary procedure that follows Robert’s Rules, or some slight variation of it. The procedures provide the best method yet to enable assemblies of any size to arrive at the general will on a number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time. The process operates well whether your meeting is harmonious or hostile.

It’s important to understand the principles behind Robert’s Rules.

  • First, all members of the group have equal rights privileges and obligations. The majority has the right to decide questions but the minority has rights, which are protected.
  • A quorum (the number of members required in the by-laws to hold a meeting) must be present for group action.
  • Full and free discussion of every motion considered is a basic right.
  • Only one question can be considered at any given time.
  • Members have the right to know at all times what the immediate pending question is, and to have it restated before a vote is taken.
  • No member can speak until recognized by the chair.
  • No one can speak a second time on the same question as long as another person want to speak a first time.
  • The chair should be impartial.

Making a Motion

The basic element used to make decisions and take actions under parliamentary procedure is the motion. It is a proposal or resolution made by a member that the assembly take a certain action or express a certain view. A motion is considered out of order if it somehow conflicts with the constitution or by-laws of the group.

The main motion is one that introduces a principal subject. Only one main motion may be considered at a time and must be disposed of before another main motion may be considered.

To make a motion, a member must be recognized by the chair, and use the phrase, “I move….” The motion must be seconded by another member, which indicates that at least one other member feels the idea to be worthy of consideration. The chair of the group restates the motion to the assembly, precisely as it was proposed. Members then discuss and debate the motion. After discussion is finished, the presiding officer asks for votes on the motion, being sure to repeat the motion before the vote. The presiding officer should also tell the members exactly what to do in the voting process–for example, say “aye,” or “raise your hand,” to vote yes. After the vote, the chair announces the result of the voting: if a voice vote is used and the outcome of the voting is unclear, a member can call for a hand count.

During discussion of motions, amendments to motions can be proposed. A word or phrase can be added or removed, or substituted for another. No more than two amendments may be considered at a time. A vote on an amendment to a motion must take place before voting on the motion.

There are five categories of motions: main motions, privileged motions, subsidiary motions, incidental motions; and unclassified motions. By far, the most commonly used motions are main motions. However, it is useful to be aware of the other types of motions. There is a hierarchy and order of precedence of motions. When certain types of motions are made, they must be acted on before other types of motions that may already be before the assembly.

Privileged motions do not relate to a pending question, but they are of such great importance that they take precedence over all other motions. Examples of privileged motions include setting a time to adjourn; adjourning; recessing; raising a question of privilege; and calling for the orders of the day. So if a motion to adjourn is made, the group must decide on that before voting on a main motion.

Subsidiary motions are applied to other motions for the purpose of appropriately disposing of the motion. They include: lay on the table (temporarily setting aside a pending motion); call for a previous question; postpone definitely; postpone indefinitely; refer to a committee; and amend.

Incidental motions correct ill-advised actions or correct improper use of parliamentary procedure and include motions such as “rise to a point of order,” and withdrawal of a motion, among others. Unclassified motions have a definite purpose, but are not classified as any other type of motion and usually pertain to actions taken at previous meetings, such as reconsidering, or rescinding an action.

Detailed information on the order of precedence of motions, and parliamentary procedure in general, is available from NJSBA in a free brochure, “Basic Parliamentary Procedure: An Introduction to Robert’s Rules.” Your district’s NJSBA field services representative can also conduct a program for your board on parliamentary procedure.

While parliamentary procedure rules can seem overwhelming to new board members, with practice, those procedures will seem like second nature. And they will prove their usefulness when your board is considering a particularly complex or contentious issue.

If You Want To…..You Say to the Chair….
Add to or change a motion. (Two times only.)I wish to amend the motion.
Stop a motion YOU have made.I wish to withdraw the motion. (No vote needed.)
Get a committee to study the matter.I move that we refer this to ______ committee.
Put the matter aside until another time.I move that the motion be tabled.
Bring up a motion that was tabled.I move that the motion be taken from the table.
Discuss something without having to stick to the rules.I move that we suspend the rules. (Requires a 2/3 vote.)
Want to divide the motion into parts.I move that the motion be divided into ___ recommendations.
Get discussion back on track.I call for the order of the day.
Erase the original vote on the motion and put it back on the floor to discuss. (As if the original motion never occurred.)I move to reconsider the vote on _____. (Can only be made by a member of the prevailing side.)
Cancel something that the voting body did at a previous meeting.I move to rescind the motion adopted at the ____ meeting to ____. (Needs a 2/3 vote.)
End discussion.I move that we close debate. (Requires 2/3 vote.)
Get more information on matter being discussed.Point of information.
Point out violation of procedure or bylaws.Point of order. (No vote needed.)
Call attention to something concerning the well being of meeting participants (bad acoustics, room temperature, other discomforts)Personal privilege.(No vote needed.)

Field Services can be reached at (609) 278-5210