RONR Official Interpretations
Q. How binding are RONR Official Interpretations from the Robert's Rules Association website?
A. RONR Official Interpretations published on the Robert's Rules Association website are not technically binding on an organization that has adopted Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised as its parliamentary authority, but they are nonetheless definitive interpretations of the work by the current authors and should therefore be treated as highly persuasive.
Since the publication of the first edition of Robert's Rules in 1876, General Robert and his successors have been receiving and replying to questions on parliamentary law. As the Introduction notes concerning the 1915 revision, “The reorganization, expansion, and clarification represented by Robert's Rules of Order Revised was largely the outgrowth of hundreds of letters received by the author over the years, submitting questions of parliamentary law arising in organizations and not covered in the earlier editions.” Traditionally, the ongoing process by which the authorship responds to inquiries in the years between editions has been an integral part of the continuing task of clarifying and periodically revising the work.
The answers to questions found in RONR Official Interpretations are the product of deliberation and refinement by all of the current authors; they undergo a process similar to that followed in preparing new editions. Indeed, to the extent deemed appropriate, their content may often be incorporated in the next edition. Their formal, deliberate, and joint nature raises them in persuasiveness over opinions expressed orally or in writing by individual members of the authorship. Because they are issued by RONR's authors and may well influence the content of the next edition, they carry more weight than other parliamentary opinions, particularly when they seek to resolve issues that have been matters of controversy among parliamentarians.
It is therefore advisable for presiding officers, or the parliamentarians who advise them, to consult RONR Official Interpretations for guidance on matters they address.
Addendum (September 2011): The 11th edition of RONR was published in September 2011. Please see Official Interpretation 2011-1 regarding the status of Official Interpretations 2006-2 through 2006-21 and 2007-1.
Q. Our president has alienated most of our members, but the process required to remove her from office under our bylaws is lengthy and cumbersome. May we simply suspend the rules so as to relieve her of her duties and put another person in her position?
A. First, the motion to Suspend the Rules applies only when “an assembly wishes to do something during a meeting that it cannot do without violating one or more of its regular rules.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 252, l. 7-9 (emphasis added); see also p. xxii. Rules of order “relate to the orderly transaction of business in meetings and to the duties of officers in that connection.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 15, l. 5-7 (emphasis added). Consequently, Suspend the Rules cannot be used to remove from the president (even temporarily) any of her administrative duties -- those related to the role of an executive officer that are distinct from the function of presiding over the assembly at its meetings. Cf. RONR (10th ed.), p. 440, l. 19-31.
Second, any one motion to Suspend the Rules that might limit the authority or duties of the presiding officer during a meeting can be effective, at most, for one session. RONR (10th ed.), p. 85, l. 14-20; p. 87, l. 1-10; cf. p. 86, l. 4-6. Therefore, in order to prevent the president from presiding during subsequent sessions, the motion to Suspend the Rules would have to be renewed and separately adopted at each of the sessions.
With these qualifications, it is indeed within the authority of the assembly, by a two-thirds vote, to suspend the rules so as to take away from the president the authority to preside during all or part of a given session. This is so even if the bylaws contain a provision to the effect that the president shall preside at all meetings, since such a provision is clearly in the nature of a rule of order. See RONR (10th ed.), p. 17, l. 22-24.
The requirement that “no rule protecting a minority of a particular size can be suspended in the face of a negative vote as large as the minority protected by the rule,” RONR [10th ed.], p. 253, l. 8-10, does not apply, since the rules specifying the authority of the presiding officer do not protect a minority of one but rather outline duties established for the good of the assembly as a whole. Similarly, the provision preventing suspension of rules protecting a basic right of the individual member, RONR [10th ed.], p. 255, l. 13-15 & 22-28, is inapplicable since the presiding officer's authority derives not from his or her basic rights as a member but rather from the duties of office.
Normally, when the president is impeded in the exercise of his or her office, a vice-president (or, in the absence of the vice-president, another temporary presiding officer appointed or elected) takes over to preside. RONR (10th ed.), p. 436-37. However, this rule could also be suspended so that the motion to suspend the rules would not only deprive the president of her authority to preside but also name the temporary presiding officer to replace her.
Q. RONR (10th ed.), p. 229, l. 11-18, says that when an “adjournment closes a session in a body that will not have another regular session within a quarterly time interval (see p. 88), or closes a session that ends the term of all or some of the members (as may happen in an elected legislative assembly or in a board): The business that is unfinished at the time of adjournment falls to the ground. It can be introduced at the next session, however, the same as if it had never before been brought up.” If a motion has been laid on the table and remains there at the time of adjournment, does it constitute “business that is unfinished” within the meaning of this rule?
A. Yes. The intent of RONR is to equate the effects of adjournment under circumstances where the adjournment either (a) closes a session in a body that will not have another regular session within a quarterly time interval, or (b) closes a session that ends the prescribed term of all or some of the members. Consequently, when an adjournment ends a session that ends the term of some or all of the body's members, any motion laid on the table and any motion to reconsider that has been moved but not called up falls to the ground. By the same principle, in such circumstances no motion may be postponed to the next session. Cf. RONR (10th ed.), p. 330, l. 1- 20.
Q. At our last monthly meeting, a main motion was adopted while “New Business” was being considered (we are governed by the standard order of business set forth in RONR). Shortly thereafter (and while other business was pending), a motion was made and seconded to reconsider the vote on this motion, but the meeting adjourned before the motion to reconsider was called up. At our next monthly meeting, can this motion to reconsider be called up under “Unfinished Business and General Orders” or must it await “New Business”?
A. Calling up this motion to reconsider need not await anything. It may be called up at any time during your next monthly meeting whenever no motion is pending, RONR (10th ed.), p. 312, l. 10-15, and no one else has the floor, p. 308, l. 33-35.
Q. We held a ballot election for the office of President. The names of the two nominees were printed on the ballot and a blank space was also provided for a write-in vote. When reviewing the ballots, the tellers found one on which the member had written the word “no” following each of the two names, with nothing else, and another on which the member had written “none of the above” under the two names, with nothing else. Should these ballots be counted in determining the number of votes cast (in other words, as illegal votes), or should they be treated as abstentions?
A. Blank ballots, ballots on which every name is crossed out, and ballots of the kind you describe, should all be treated as abstentions, that is, as no vote at all. Under the rules in RONR, the only ballots which are to be counted as votes cast are those on which a member has voted for someone (whether that someone was eligible or not). RONR (10th ed.), p. 400, l. 2-4; p. 416, l. 14-17; PL, p. 227. Leaving a ballot blank (writing nothing on it), crossing out all names pre-printed on a ballot, writing “no” after each name on a ballot, and writing “none of the above” under all of the names on a ballot, are all methods of abstaining; that is to say, they are all methods of refraining from voting for anyone.
RONR (10th ed.), p. 402, l. 22-25; p. 402, l. 34 to p. 403, l. 2, states, “All ... illegal votes cast by legal voters ... are taken into account in determining the numbers of votes cast for purposes of computing the majority. ... The principle is that a choice has no mandate from the voting body unless approval is expressed by more than half of those entitled to vote and registering any evidence of having some opinion.” In the case of an election, “registering any evidence of having some opinion” means an opinion as to who it is who should be elected.
This is the general rule in RONR. It may not apply in specific factual circumstances. For example, although RONR says that “for” or “against” ballots should not be used in an election, RONR (10th ed.), p. 399, l. 34-35; p. 416, l. 11-14, it sometimes happens. When voters are led to understand that they can vote against candidates in this fashion, their doing so must obviously be credited. In any case, whenever there is doubt as to how a ballot should be treated, and its treatment may affect the result, the question should be submitted to the assembly for its decision, RONR (10th ed.), p. 402, l. 16-21. In doing so, care should be taken to avoid disclosing how the decision will affect any of the candidates involved, PL, p. 227.
Q. On page 255, lines 22-28, of RONR, Tenth Edition, it is said that “... while generally applicable limits on debate and the making of motions may be imposed by motions such as the Previous Question, the rules may not be suspended so as to deny any particular member the right to attend meetings, make motions, speak in debate, and vote, which are basic rights that may be curtailed only through disciplinary proceedings.” On page 244, it is noted that, if any action is taken in violation of a rule protecting a basic right of an individual member, it is never too late to raise a point of order concerning such a violation since the action so taken is null and void.
If an assembly wrongfully denies Member A, and only Member A, the right to vote on a particular main motion (motion X), in clear violation of his basic right to do so, will this action render the vote taken on motion X null and void?
A. The denial of Member A's right to vote will render the vote taken on motion X null and void only if there is a possibility that member A's vote might have affected the result. For example, if motion X was adopted by a vote of 100 in favor and 95 opposed, motion X will stand as having been validly adopted. The principle is the same as that discussed on pages 402-403 relating to instances in which votes are cast by persons not entitled to vote.
Even if the action taken by the assembly in denying Member A the right to vote does not affect the validity of the vote taken (those instances in which his vote could not have changed the outcome of the vote), a point of order concerning the action taken by the assembly in denying him his right to vote may be raised at any time. The member wrongly denied the right to vote is entitled to a ruling to that effect, if only to attempt to ensure such a denial does not happen again. In some circumstances, the ruling may be the basis for some remedial action, such as the commencement of disciplinary proceedings if there is an allegation that others willfully obstructed the member attempting to vote.
Q. It is my understanding that a main motion that dies for lack of a second is not to be recorded in the minutes because it never really came before the assembly and, therefore, need not be recorded. Is this correct?
A. No, it is not correct. Under the rule as stated in RONR, on page 452, lines 21 to 23, minutes should record all main motions except, normally, any that were withdrawn. We tried to state it a bit more forcefully in RONRIB where, on page 148, we said:
“All main motions which are moved during the course of a meeting (excepting only those which are withdrawn by the maker) should be recorded in the minutes.”
In this sentence, the words “All” and “only” are italicized for emphasis, and we would call your attention again to the phrase “which are moved.” A main motion is “moved” (or “made”) as the very first step (and just the first step) of the three steps by which it is normally brought before an assembly. The second and third steps in this process (the seconding of the motion and the stating of the question by the chair) come only after the main motion has already been made (RONR, 10th. ed., p. 31-40; RONRIB, p. 20-22).
The wording used in the minutes to record a main motion that has died for lack of a second should reflect just that, e.g., “A motion by Mr. X ‘that the Society support the candidacy of John Smith for the office of Mayor’ died for lack of a second,” or that “A motion ‘that the Society support the candidacy of John Smith for the office of Mayor’ failed to receive a second.”
Q. The following rules relating to the motion to Postpone appear on page 175 of RONR, 10th ed.:
“In a case where more than a quarterly time interval (see p. 88) will elapse between meetings (for example, in an annual convention of delegates or in a local society that holds only an annual meeting), a question cannot be postponed beyond the end of the present session. In cases where no more than a quarterly time interval (see p. 88) will elapse between sessions, a question can be postponed until, but not beyond, the next regular business session. For example, in a society that holds regular business meetings on the same day of each week, a question cannot, at one meeting, be postponed for longer than a week.”
Can these rules be suspended? That is to say, can the rules be suspended in order to permit postponement of a motion to the next session if that session will not be held within a quarterly time interval, or to permit postponement to a session beyond the next session when sessions are held within quarterly time intervals?
A. No. These are actually attempts to impose a rule of order upon a future session, or, stated in another way, attempts to suspend the rules applicable in a future session, which cannot be done except by the adoption of a special rule of order (or amendment to the bylaws). RONR, (10th ed.), p. 85, l. 14-19; p. 252, l. 7-10 (“When an assembly wishes to do something during a meeting that it cannot do without violating one or more of its regular rules, it can ... Suspend the Rules ... .”[emphasis added]).
Q. In standing and special committees there is no limit to the number of times that a motion can be reconsidered (RONR [10th ed.], p. 319, l. 3-4). Suppose that, in a special committee, main motion X is defeated, and then a motion to reconsider the vote on main motion X is defeated. Can a vote ever be taken on motion X again in the committee (other than by suspending the rules)?
A. Yes. The rule on page 319 that, in standing and special committees, “there is no limit to the number of times a question can be reconsidered” is intended to mean not only that after a question has been reconsidered it may be reconsidered again, but also that rejected motions to reconsider may be renewed, to the end that questions which have not been reconsidered may be reconsidered. In other words, neither of the two rules on page 309, lines 31-35, namely:
“If it is voted on and lost, the motion to Reconsider cannot be renewed except by unanimous consent. By the same principle, no question can be reconsidered twice unless it was materially amended during its first reconsideration.”
are applicable in standing and special committees, being based, as they are, on “the same principle.”
Q. RONR, 10th ed., on page 186, lines 16-23, says that “... after the adoption of an order providing a time for the close of debate -- by specifying either the hour at which the vote shall be taken or the total amount of time allowed for debate -- motions to Commit or to Postpone to a Certain Time cannot be made unless the vote establishing the order is reconsidered and reversed, since these motions would be in conflict with the purpose of that order.”
However, on page 187, lines 27-32, we find “after the expiration of the allotted time under any order limiting debate without specifying when the vote shall be taken, amendments and motions to dispose of the main motion are in order, but they are then undebatable unless the limitation of debate is changed as just indicated.”
Does this statement on page 187 mean that, after the expiration of the allotted time under any order limiting debate without specifying when the vote shall be taken, motions to Commit or to Postpone to a Certain Time can be made (but will be undebatable) even although they could not have been made at all following adoption of the order but prior to its expiration?
A. No, these motions (Commit and Postpone to a Certain Time) cannot be made at any time after adoption of an order providing a time for the close of debate (unless the vote establishing the order is reconsidered and reversed) since they conflict with the purpose of that order. The general statement on page 187 does not qualify or limit in any way the more specific rules on page 162, lines 22-26, on page 174, lines 5-10, or on page 186, lines 16-23. “A general statement or rule is always of less authority than a specific statement or rule and yields to it.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 571, l. 8-9.
Q. At our organization's convention, a very close race resulted in the chair announcing the election of an officer. After the convention adjourned, some of the tellers recalculated and discovered that an arithmetic error had resulted in an erroneous tellers' report, with the result that the wrong person had been declared elected. There will not be another convention for two years. May the Board of Directors order a recount?
A. RONR (10th ed.), p. 404, l. 15-20, states, “After completion of an election ... if there is no possibility that the assembly may order a recount (which requires a majority vote unless a special rule permits a lesser number to do so), the ballots can be ordered to be destroyed or to be filed for a certain length of time with the secretary (such as one month) before being destroyed.” This contemplates that it is the body composed of the electors which has the authority to order the recount. It also recognizes that in deciding the result of an election, there is a point at which an interest in finality and stability comes to outweigh even the interest in accuracy.
Even if another body other than the assembly itself- such as the Board of Directors in this case -- has the authority under the organization's bylaws to act for the full assembly between the assembly's meetings, “... no action of the board can conflict with any action taken by the assembly of the society.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 466, l. 7-9. It was the assembly that conducted the election, and the assembly's presiding officer who announced the result, which, coupled with the officer-elect's failure to decline, made the election final (p. 430). Consequently, only the assembly itself may order the recount.
Since, in the case of a convention, final adjournment dissolves the assembly unless provision has been made whereby it will, or may, later be reconvened with the same body of delegates (RONR [10th ed.], p. 229, l. 21-24), it is usually impossible for a convention to order a recount following its final adjournment. In contrast, in the case of an election by the membership at a membership meeting, it might be possible for a recount to be ordered at a later meeting of the membership.
The situation described underlines the very great importance, especially when votes are conducted in a convention, of care being taken to assure accuracy by the tellers, and of the desirability of conducting any checks, at the latest, before the convention adjourns sine die.
Q. The executive board of our Society has full power and authority over the affairs of the Society between meetings of the membership. At our annual membership meeting, a motion was made “That the Society will support the candidacy of James Thornton for election to the office of U. S. Senator.” This motion was rejected. At the following meeting of the executive board, will it be in order for the board to consider a motion which is the same as (or presents substantially the same question as) this motion which was rejected by the membership?
A. No. In the usual case (where the board is subordinate to the membership of the society), no action can be taken by the board which would conflict with any action taken by the assembly of the society (RONR, 10 th ed., p. 466, l. 7-17). As a consequence, although the decision made by the membership not to support the candidacy of James Thornton may be reversed by the membership itself, its subordinate board has no such power.
If, instead of rejecting the motion to support the candidacy of James Thornton, the assembly had adopted a motion postponing it indefinitely, the same result would obtain. In short, although the membership can reverse its own decisions and decisions made by its board, the board cannot reverse decisions made by the membership.
Q. The executive board of our Society has full power and authority over the affairs of the Society between meetings of the membership. If the board takes action pursuant to this authority, can the membership countermand such action, and if so, what vote will be required to do so?
A. In those situations in which a society's bylaws confer upon its executive board full power and authority over the affairs of the society between membership meetings, any motion adopted by the board pursuant to such authority may later be countermanded -- that is, rescinded or amended -- by the membership at a later membership meeting (RONR [10th ed.], p. 466, l. 11-14), but such rescission or amendment will require adoption by the membership of a motion to Rescind or Amend Something Previously Adopted in accordance with the rules in Section 35, just as if the motion had originally been adopted by the membership itself. The same is true whenever a board or committee takes action in behalf of the membership pursuant to authority conferred upon it (for example, when the board or a committee is authorized to approve the minutes of a membership meeting, as discussed on p. 457, l. 21-32).
Q. On page 190, lines 4-6, RONR, 10th ed., says that the “adoption of an order for the Previous Question does not prevent the making of privileged or incidental motions (6) as applicable ...” Since a motion to create a blank is an incidental motion (RONR [10th ed.], p. 156, l. 4-5), is it in order to move to create a blank in an immediately pending motion after the previous question has been ordered on it?
A. No. Although a motion to create a blank is an incidental motion, and not a form of amendment in itself, it is an incidental motion relating to the method of amending the pending motion (PL, p. 39), and the ordering of the previous question on the pending motion has stopped any amendment of it (RONR, 10th ed., p. 189, l. 28-33).
Q. The following example appears in RONR, 10th ed., on pages 157-58:
As an example of the procedure for filling a blank with an amount of money, assume that a resolution to build a new headquarters “at a cost not to exceed $______” is pending, and that it is proposed to fill the blank with the following amounts: $350,000, $250,000, $400,000, and $300,000. The character of this measure -- to spend money -- indicates that the amounts should be arranged and voted on in order from the highest to lowest. If $400,000 is rejected, the vote is taken next on $350,000; and if that is not adopted, the chair puts the question on $300,000. If that amount is adopted, no vote is taken on $250,000, and the chair immediately says, “The amount of $300,000 fills the blank. The question is now on the resolution: ‘Resolved, That ... at a cost not to exceed $300,000.’”
If a member wishes to move to reconsider the vote rejecting $350,000, must he simultaneously move to reconsider the vote which adopted the $300,000 proposal? Can or should he simultaneously move to reconsider the vote on any other proposal? If, on reconsideration, $300,000 is rejected, would the members then vote on $250,000?
A. In order to reconsider the vote rejecting the $350,000 proposal, the member must move to reconsider also the vote which adopted the $300,000 proposal. This is based upon the same principle which applies to reconsideration of a secondary amendment after the related primary amendment has been voted on (RONR [10th ed.], p. 317, l. 18-27).
The member cannot also simultaneously move to reconsider the vote on the $400,000 proposal without a suspension of the rules. This situation is comparable to one in which, while a motion “that a new headquarters be built at a cost not to exceed $400,000” is pending, a motion to amend by striking out “$400,000” and inserting “$300,000” is made and rejected, and thereafter a motion to amend by striking out “$400,000” and inserting “$350,000” is made and rejected. The main motion is then adopted. A member may move to reconsider the vote on the main motion together with the vote on either one of these primary amendments, but he may not move to reconsider the vote on the main motion together with the votes on both primary amendments simultaneously. Therefore, if a member wishes to move to reconsider the vote rejecting $400,000, he should move to reconsider the vote on it and the vote which adopted the $300,000 proposal.
If, on reconsideration, a suggestion previously adopted to fill a blank is rejected, any suggestions previously made but not voted on should then be voted on in the appropriate order. Furthermore, a motion would be in order to reconsider the vote on any suggestion previously considered and rejected, provided that it had not previously been the subject of a motion to reconsider.
Q. The device of filling blanks may, on occasion, be used in connection with the amendment of an undebatable motion, such as when used in connection with division of a question (RONR [10th ed.], p. 263, l. 4-8), determining the method of voting (RONR [10th ed.], p. 274, l. 19-23), or determining the method of nominating (RONR [10th ed.], p. 276, l. 25-32). On such occasions, are the suggestions made for filling the blank debatable, as indicated in RONR on page 156, lines 32-33?
A. No. In such instances, suggestions for filling a blank are undebatable. Although the device of filling blanks is not technically one of the forms of amendment, it is a method of amendment, and any proposal to amend an undebatable motion is undebatable (see RONR [10th ed.], p. 385, l. 6-9 for the rationale behind this rule).
Q. A few years ago, the membership of our Society adopted a motion saying that “total contributions to any one charitable organization shall not exceed $500.00 in any one calendar year.” This motion has never been rescinded or amended. At our last meeting, a member moved to make a contribution of $750.00 to the XYZ Charity, which, after debate, was adopted by voice vote. No point of order or objection of any kind was made concerning the adoption of this motion, and the meeting was adjourned.
What is the status of the decision to make a $750.00 donation to the XYZ Charity?
A. The motion to make a contribution of $750.00 to the XYZ Charity was out of order at the time it was made, since it conflicted with a motion previously adopted and still in full force and effect. RONR (10th ed.), p. 106, l. 28-31; p. 332, l. 19-24. The motion previously adopted created a rule (or “policy”) which has its application outside of a meeting context. Such a rule cannot be suspended (RONR, 10th ed., p. 257, l. 8-10). As a consequence, the introduction of the motion to make the $750.00 contribution gave rise to a continuing breach, and a point of order concerning the validity of its adoption may be made at any time.
However, if it can be clearly established that the motion to make the contribution of $750.00 to the XYZ Charity was, in fact, adopted by the vote required to rescind or amend the rule fixing the limitation on charitable contributions, then the motion to make the contribution is effective, even though it was not in order at the time it was made, considered, and adopted. The adoption of the motion by such a vote may be considered as having the same effect as if the adopted policy had been amended by specifically exempting this particular contribution from its operation and effect. Since the motion was adopted by a voice vote, however, it will probably be impossible to establish clearly that it was adopted by either a two-thirds vote or the vote of a majority of the entire membership. RONR (10th ed.), p. 244, l. 12-16.
Q. At our monthly meeting in March, a member gave notice that at our next (April) meeting he would move to amend our standing rule that “total contributions to any one charitable organization shall not exceed $500.00 in any one calendar year” by striking out “$500.00” and inserting “$750.00.”
During consideration of this motion at our April meeting, it was amended by striking out “$750.00” and inserting “$1,000.00.” The vote on the motion as so amended was taken by a counted rising vote, following which the chair's declaration of the result of the vote was as follows: “There are 32 in the affirmative and 30 in the negative. The affirmative has it and the motion is adopted.”
No point of order was raised concerning the chair's declaration of the result of this vote, and later on during the meeting several motions to make contributions to certain charitable organizations, ranging from $600.00 to $800.00, were adopted by voice vote.
Following adjournment of the April meeting, some of our members realized that the chair's determination that the motion had been adopted was in error, since the 32 affirmative votes were less than two-thirds of the votes cast, and also less than a majority of our entire membership. They intend to raise a point of order concerning this at our next meeting. What should be the chair's response?
A. If such a point of order is raised, the chair should advise the assembly that the announcement of the result of the vote was indeed in error (a majority vote being insufficient to adopt the motion as amended because the amendment exceeded the scope of notice, see RONR [10th ed.], p. 295, l. 12-18), but that it is too late to raise a point of order concerning the matter. The erroneous determination as to the vote required for adoption of the motion to amend the standing rule does not fall within any of the exceptions (listed on p. 244 of RONR) to the rule that a point of order must be made at the time of the breach. It follows, therefore, that the ensuing motions to make contributions to charitable organizations ranging in amount from $600.00 to $800.00 were validly adopted, since they came within the $1,000.00 limit of the rule as it then stood.
It should be noted in this connection that a rule requiring a two-thirds vote (or any other fraction) of members present and voting (or of all members present) affords no protection at all to absentees; it affords protection only to a certain fraction of the members present at the time the vote is taken. In the case of a rule requiring a two-thirds vote, the rule protects a minority of any number greater than one-third of the members present. However, such rules may be suspended, and if a rule is suspendable, a point of order regarding its violation must be timely. Although “no rule protecting a minority of a particular size can be suspended in the face of a negative vote as large as the minority protected by the rule” (RONR [10th ed.], p. 253, l. 8-10), the vote required to suspend a suspendable rule is irrelevant to this timeliness requirement.
Q. The answer to FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) 18 in RONRIB (and on this web site) reads as follows:
A resignation is a Request to Be Excused from a Duty. It may be withdrawn in the same manner as any motion may be withdrawn -- that is to say, before the proposed resignation has been placed before the assembly by the chair stating the question on its acceptance, it may be withdrawn without the consent of the assembly, but it may not be withdrawn without permission of the assembly once it has been placed before the assembly for its approval. [RONR (10th ed.), p. 277-80; 283-85.]
Will this answer change in any respect if the motion to accept the resignation is made by someone other than the person submitting the resignation?
A. No. The answer given in FAQ 18 remains the same regardless of whether the person resigning formally moves that his resignation be accepted, or the chair assumes a motion “that the resignation be accepted,” or the motion to accept the resignation is made by another member.
Q. After only a few minutes of debate on a main motion, it became obvious that the motion raised issues which were very contentious and that its consideration would serve no useful purpose. However, when a member objected to its further consideration, the chair ruled that it was too late to raise such an objection. Was the chair's ruling correct, and if so, what could the member have done? Could he have simply moved to suspend the rules which interfered with his objection?
A. The chair's ruling was correct; an Objection to the Consideration of a Question cannot be raised after there has been any debate, since consideration of the question has already begun. RONR (10th ed.), p. 258, l. 35 to p. 259, l. 3. It is simply not possible to prevent debate which has already taken place. As a consequence, a motion to suspend the rules which interfere with the late objection would also be out of order. Rules may be suspended, but facts cannot.
There are, however, steps which may properly be taken in order to prevent further consideration of a motion once debate on it has begun. The most obvious, of course, is simply to move the previous question. RONR (10th ed.), p. 189-201. This motion will require a two-thirds vote for its adoption, but it would have taken a two-thirds vote to sustain an objection to consideration of the question had such an objection been made in a timely fashion. If it is desirable to avoid a direct vote on the main motion itself, then, while it is immediately pending, a motion can be made to postpone it indefinitely, followed immediately by a motion to order the previous question on both pending questions. RONR (10th ed.), p. 208, l. 27-31. Finally, if it is desired to wrap things up very quickly with a single vote, a motion may be made “to suspend the rules and agree that the pending motion relating to ... be postponed indefinitely.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 253, l. 27 to p. 254, l. 8.
Note: This interpretation has been superseded by the 11th edition of RONR (September 2011), which contains a specific rule regarding the time within which a member may change his vote. See RONR (11th ed.), p. 408, l. 21 to p. 409, l. 10; see also p. 48, ll. 28-34.
Q. On page 395, lines 9-12, RONR, 10th ed., says:
“A member has a right to change his vote up to the time the result is announced; after that, he can make the change only by the unanimous consent of the assembly granted without debate (see p. 46).”
Is there a time limit on members requesting unanimous consent to change their votes? When such consent is granted, how does this affect the announced result of a counted vote, and what should the minutes reflect?
A. A request for unanimous consent to change a vote must be made promptly following announcement of the result of the vote, and prior to the introduction of any other business. This is the same time frame as that within which a motion may be made to retake (by one of the other methods of voting discussed on pages 398ffl.) a vote that has just been taken by one of the regular methods of voting (RONR, 10th ed., p. 273, l. 26-28), and also that within which points of order regarding the conduct of a vote must be raised (RONR, 10th ed., p. 243, l. 32, to p. 244, l. 3). A request or motion to make unanimous a vote which was not unanimous (e.g. RONR, 10th ed., p. 399, l. 6-11) must be made within this time frame.
If consent is granted with respect to a vote which has been counted, the chair must announce the revised result as the final result, and it is only this final result which is to be recorded in the minutes.
Q. If the chair of a large assembly is supposed to be impartial, why is the chair allowed to “assume” a motion?
A. Although “the presiding officer [if] a member of the society ... has -- as an individual -- the same rights ... as any other member” it is indeed true that “the impartiality required of the chair in an assembly precludes his exercising these rights while he is presiding.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 382, l. 16-20. This means that the chair may not make or second motions. (The constraints on the chair are less in committees and small boards. RONR [10th ed.], p. 470-71; 483, l. 10-19.) There is a substantial difference, however, between the chair “making” a motion (the making of a motion is described in detail in RONR [10th ed.], p. 32-33) and the chair “assuming” a motion, which he or she does simply by stating (or, sometimes, by putting) the question on it.
The chair's ability to “assume” a motion that has not actually been made by another member exists to facilitate the business of the assembly, not to give the chair an opportunity to make a motion whose consideration he or she, as an individual member, believes would be desirable. Assuming a motion, rather than waiting or calling for the motion to be made, is appropriate as a means of saving the time of the assembly when it is obvious that the motion is necessary or appropriate in light of the pending business. Thus, when a committee report contains recommendations and the reporting member fails to move their adoption,
when the proper motion is a matter of clear-cut procedure and must necessarily be introduced to resolve the case, the chair may sometimes expedite matters by assuming the motion-that is, stating the question on it without waiting for it to be made -- provided that the assembly is accustomed to this method.*
Similarly, when a convention must be formally organized through the successive adoption of the reports of the Credentials, Rules and Program Committees, if no one promptly offers the motion to adopt one of these reports, “the chair can call for it, or can assume it by stating, for example, ‘The question is on the adoption of the report of the Program Committee.’ ” RONR (10th ed.), p. 591, l. 20-23.
Upon submission of a resignation from an office or other duty, which requires acceptance by vote of the assembly to become effective, “The chair, on reading or announcing the resignation, can assume a motion ‘that the resignation be accepted.’” RONR (10th ed.), p. 279, l. 14-16. When there is objection to a request for unanimous consent on a matter on which no motion has yet been made, the chair may ask if there is such a motion, “or he must at least put the question, assuming such a motion.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 52, l. 15-16; see also p. 285 (when there is objection to a request to modify or withdraw a motion).
In none of these instances, it will be observed, does the chair's assumption of a motion give any indication that the chair has any personal views on the merits of the motion.
Q. Official Interpretation 2006-1 (and the Preface of the 11th edition of RONR) states that RONR Official Interpretations published on the Robert's Rules Association website are not “technically binding on an organization that has adopted Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised as its parliamentary authority, but they are nonetheless definitive interpretations of the work by the current authors and should therefore be treated as highly persuasive.”
Since the 11th edition, published in September 2011, is now the current one, do the answers given in those of the RONR Official Interpretations published before that time remain valid?
A. With the exception of Official Interpretation 2006-21, those earlier interpretations remain valid in substance. Parliamentarians and others may therefore still wish to consult them for their explanatory value -- either for a more in-depth treatment of a specific question than could be provided in RONR itself, or simply to gain a better understanding of the history and development of the rules involved. However, the specific references to the 10th edition included in them should no longer be cited as being authoritative in organizations governed by the current edition. In many cases, the text of the 11th edition has been modified to incorporate much or all of the substance of an interpretation in an unambiguous manner, so that the need for further explanation is less likely to arise in the first place; in others, although the same text as that cited from the 10th edition may remain applicable, the page and line references do not.
Q. Our society's regular meetings are held in January, April, July, and October. At our regular meeting in April, we adjourned without having approved the minutes of the January meeting. If we want to approve the January minutes sooner than at the next regular meeting, which will be in July, may we call a special meeting to do so? And, since our secretary has already also prepared the minutes of the April meeting, will it be possible to approve those minutes at the same special meeting, too?
A. The answer to both questions is yes -- provided that the bylaws authorize the calling of special meetings (see RONR [11th ed.], p. 92, ll. 9-10 and p. 576, ll. 7-16). The special meeting must be called in accordance with the relevant bylaw provisions, and the call (that is, the notice sent in advance to all members) must specify the approval of the January and April minutes as items of business to be considered.
The controlling rule is that “the only business that can be transacted at a special meeting is that which has been specified in the call of the meeting.” [P. 93, ll. 3-4.] Ordinarily, approval of minutes is not among the purposes of a special meeting and is thus not specified in the call and cannot be taken up. As a consequence, in a society such as yours, the minutes of a session lasting no longer than one day “are normally read and approved at the beginning of the next regular meeting, immediately after the call to order and any opening ceremonies.” [P. 473, ll. 28-31; emphasis added.]
In this context, RONR (p. 473, l. 35) further states, “A special meeting does not approve minutes.” That is merely a factual observation, however, which serves to distinguish between the ordinary procedure at a regular meeting (at which business begins with reading and approval of minutes) and the ordinary procedure at a special meeting (at which business begins with whatever the purpose of the meeting is). It should not be understood as establishing a specific rule prohibiting approval of minutes at a special meeting. No rule in RONR prevents a society from approving minutes at a special meeting properly called for that purpose.
Note also that a special (or regular) session lasting more than one day routinely does approve minutes, since the minutes of meetings held the preceding day are normally approved at the beginning of each day's business after the first. [RONR (11th ed.), p. 475, ll. 8-14.]
NOTE: While there are many books available with “Robert's Rules” in the title, be aware that only the 2011 editions of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, published by Da Capo Press, are the current, official versions.
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