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Parliamentary procedure guidelines

What is parliamentary procedure?

It is a set of rules for conducting meetings that allows everyone to be heard and to make decisions without confusion. It is a time-tested method of conducting business at meetings and public gatherings. We use a modified and simplified version.

Branch meetings

Branch meetings follow this typical format:

  1. Call to order
  2. Proposal and approval of agenda
  3. Business as defined by agenda
  4. Announcements
  5. Adjournment

The meeting is run by the Chair. It is the Chair’s responsibility to run the meeting as smoothly as possible, and to ensure that each attendee is able to participate fully.

  • The Chair calls the meeting to order. (Stand and greet the meeting, state the purpose, etc.)
  • The Chair proposes the agenda to the meeting, allowing time for amendments and discussion.
  • The Chair then calls for a vote (raised hands) to approve the agenda. (Always call for those in favor, those against, and those abstaining: make sure each count is announced and recorded.)
  • The Chair keeps a speakers list, or stack, during the discussion, so that each person may speak. (The Chair can speak during discussion, but not abuse the power of the Chair, by going first, or going on too long.) The Chair should also keep to time limits.
  • The Chair handles motions as they come up in the meeting. It is up to the Chair to rule if a motion is “In Order” or “Out of Order” based upon the current Agenda item or ongoing debate. If the Chair feels the motion is untimely or unrelated, they may rule it “Out of Order.” If so, the Chair should take a minute to think, and then suggest when the item might be better proposed.

The rights and responsibilities of members and attendees

Attendees may address the meeting in three ways:

  1. Members and Attendees may raise their hand and participate in discussion,
  2. Members and Attendees may make motions,
  3. Members and Attendees may make announcements at the appropriate time in the Agenda.

Motions

A motion is a proposal that the entire body take action or a stand on an issue. Individual members (and attendees) can:

  1. Propose motions
  2. Second motions
  3. Debate motions
  4. Vote on motions

There are six basic types of motions:

Main Motions
The purpose of a main motion is to introduce items to the body for their consideration. They cannot be made when any other motion is on the floor, and yield to privileged, subsidiary, and incidental motions.
Amendments or Subsidiary Motions
Their purpose is to change or affect how a main motion is handled. It is voted on before a main motion.
Point of Privilege or Privileged Motions, or Point of Information
Their purpose is to bring up items that are urgent, special, or important matters unrelated to pending business, or to ask for clarification about something that is unclear.
Point of Order or Incidental Motions
Their purpose is to provide a means of questioning procedure concerning other motions and must be considered before the motion on the floor.
Call the Question
This is a motion to end debate immediately and vote on the motion. It must be voted on right away, unless the Chair rules it Out of Order, in which case debate goes on as before.
Motion to Table
This postpones debate to a later meeting.

How are motions presented?

Attendees should raise their hand and get the attention of the Chair. When it is the attendee’s turn, they may make their motion. The member should speak in a clear and concise manner, and state a motion affirmatively. For example, say, "I move that we join the boycott of (some place)" rather than, "I move that we do not go to (some place) any more...".

Exceptions: points of privilege, points of order, points of information, call the question

Attendees, once they have gained the Chair’s attention, should say clearly that rather than participate in the current discussion, they have this special type of Motion to move: “Point of information.” The Chair must then ascertain the nature of the motion, rule on orderliness, and then act on the motion. Once this special motion has been acted on, the Chair returns the meeting to main business.

Seconds

All main motions, amendments, motions to table, and call the question motions must gain a second in order to be considered. (That is another participant must say that they also support the motion, or “I second that proposal.”) If no one else supports a motion or want to end debate, it should not be brought before the meeting, and the motion dies “for lack of second.”

Points of Privilege, Points of Order, Points of Information do not require a second. The Chair must take action here, without allowing one person to abuse the rights and patience of the entire meeting.

Reading the motion in

If the seconded motion is complex, the mover should present the motion in writing to the chair, if practical. The Chair will say, "It has been moved and seconded that we ..." and will then restate (or read it into the record) the motion to the meeting so that it may be debated. Even if the Chair allows the mover to restate the motion, someone should write down the exact motion, so that members can know what they are voting on, and so the motion cannot be changed.

The Chair allows the mover a couple of minutes to motivate the motion. The Chair then asks if there needs to be discussion.

If there is no call from the floor for discussion, the Chair may move directly to a vote, by announcing: “Seeing no call for discussion, let us move to vote.” This gives the meeting a clear signal and members who may oppose the motion or want to amend it one last chance to do call for discussion.

If there is a call for discussion, the Chair can propose a time limit for debate, or note that the agenda needs to be extended. The Chair then begins taking speakers for the stack. The Chair may choose to call on speakers for and speakers against the motion, alternating between the two, to help get any debate out right away.

Altering motions

Members have the right to alter or expand a motion by offering amendments. These may be a simple as modifying the language of a proposal, or offering a different date or time. No amendment cannot be the opposite of the proposed motion. If the proposal is “I move we do ‘X,’” a motion offered as “I move we do not do ‘X’” is not an amendment and is out of order. It is the job of those opposed to an original motion to offer arguments why the original proposal should be voted down. The mover of a main motion may accept some amendments as “friendly” to their original intent. If they declare these proposals as friendly, the amendments become a part of the original proposal without a vote. If not, the amendment must be voted on before the main motion. The mover of the original motion may speak against amendments they feel are in opposition to the intent of the main motion.

Voting on a motion

We poll members by a show of raised hands. The Chair should ask for “those in favor of the motion,” “those opposed to the motion,” and “those who are abstaining” (that is, those who are undecided or choose not to vote). The Chair should count the raised hands and record them. In large meetings, the Chair can recruit a counter or two. They should then compare counts.

The Chair then announces the vote totals and whether the motion passes or fails. The “fors” must outnumber the “againsts” by 1 to pass, or a simple majority.

That is it!

Remember to work together as comrades. And if in doubt, agree on a course of action, and move on.