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Don't let myths and half-truths ruin your winter meetings

Don't let myths and half-truths ruin your winter meetings

Practical Parliamentarian: Abstentions from voting don't count as negative votes.

“They took two hours to decide what to have to drink at the upcoming banquet. I’m never going back to that meeting again.” If that sounds even vaguely familiar, then your group could use Jack Simmerman’s help. The retired ag teacher from Owen County is an expert when it comes to parliamentary procedure.

What the group really needs is a copy of "Robert’s Rules of Order" and some basic training in running meetings, Simmerman says.

He recently assembled a list of myths and half-truths people often try to run meetings by, instead of the correct rules. Here are five. See if any sound familiar.

MYTHS MYSTIFY MEETING-GOERS: If you belong to a farm group holding meetings this winter, make sure members follow accepted practices for how to run meetings, rather than myths. (Photo: Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Thinkstock)

1. Debate is never in order before a main motion has been presented. Many groups have a custom of allowing for some debate before a motion is made. Some believe that allows some consensus to arise prior to wording of a motion. In general, it’s not a recommended practice for large groups to have discussion without a motion on the floor. But it’s allowed under “small board rules” and in committees.

2. A member of the nominating committee cannot be nominated. No such rule exists in any commonly used parliamentary authority. If this were true, then a member is being stripped of one of the generally accepted principles of full membership in the organization.

3. Only the maker of a motion can move to rescind a motion made at an earlier meeting. Once a motion has been turned over to the body for debate or a vote, the maker of the motion has no more ownership than any other member. A point to ponder: It is in order for a person who was absent from the meeting at which a motion was passed or perhaps not even a member at the time of the motion passing to move to rescind or amend. This is not an uncommon practice in some governmental groups as a new group of members seek to “undo” a motion passed by a previous group. It happens in many groups after an election.  Suppose your school board passes to implement certain policies, and after an election the membership has changed enough to “undo” the previous board’s motion. That is perfectly legal.

4. A motion that is debated and voted on but later determined to have never been seconded is void. After debate has started or voting has occurred, the lack of a second is immaterial. By virtue of any debate or votes cast, the threshold point for a second, which is more than one member interested in considering the issue, has been met.

5. Abstentions automatically count as a “nay” vote. Abstentions do not count as votes. If a quorum is present but only a portion chooses to vote, then the requirement of majority or two-thirds is determined based on votes cast. Suppose there are 50 members in a group and 40 at the meeting. A vote is taken; one vote is cast in favor and 39 people abstain.  It’s an extreme case, but the motion received a majority of the votes, cast so it passes.  

Could abstentions have the same effect as voting no? Yes. Suppose a local school board has seven members, and state law says motions must have a majority vote of the entire membership. The majority of seven is four. Due to abstentions, the vote is three in favor and two against. Due to state rules, the motion fails. 

Remember that a member has the right to abstain, and doesn’t have to give a reason why.

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