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Chapter 5 - Voting

In democratic societies, citizens have the right to assemble, the right to speak, and the right to vote. The right to assemble allows people of common interests to join together to accomplish a goal or common purpose. The right to speak allows members of that assembly to voice their opinions and concerns and to persuade others that their opinions and concerns are valid and to take action. The right to vote is the assembly's way of allowing all members to decide an issue, in a democratic manner, after they have assembled and heard their fellow members' opinions and concerns.

The right to vote is essential in preserving democracy in organizations and elected bodies. There are three principles that require consideration when a vote is taken:

These principles underlie the parliamentary procedures for voting; indeed, the specific rules of voting are designed to uphold them. This chapter explains these voting rules and the situations in which they are violated. The chapter begins with the procedure for taking a vote and then discusses the idea of majority rule and defines majority vote. It also explains the numerous ways a vote can be taken and the appropriate actions to take when the result of a vote is doubted. Finally, it answers frequently asked questions about voting.

PROCEDURE FOR TAKING A VOTE

In taking a vote, the presiding officer or chair must follow an established general procedure:

  1. The chair always asks for the affirmative vote first.

  2. The chair always asks for the negative vote, even if the affirmative vote seems unanimous.

  3. The chair does not ask for abstentions.

  4. The chair always announces the result of the vote and states what has just happened. If the affirmative won, the chair also states who is responsible for carrying out the action. If the chair is in doubt about who should carry out the action, the members need to make a motion to determine who should carry it out.

  5. The chair must stay neutral in asking for the vote so as not to sway the membership. The chair does not say, for example:

  6. President: All those in favor say "Aye." Contrary say "No."

  7. The chair does not phrase the vote this way:

    President: All those in favor say "Aye." Those opposed "same sign."

    If the vote were taken this way, it would mean that both those in favor and those opposed would say "Aye." So then who wins?

    However, phrasing the vote this way is acceptable:

    President: As many as are in favor say "Aye." Those opposed say "No."

    Another accepted way is to say:

    President: All those in favor say "Aye." All those opposed say "No."

  8. It is understood that during all methods of voting a quorum must be present.

  9. If the chair is in doubt about the result of the vote, the chair can request a rising vote or a rising and counted vote to retake the vote.

  10. If a member doubts the result of the vote, the member should call out "division." For an explanation of this action, see "Doubting the Result of the Vote," later in this chapter.

THE MAJORITY RULES

A fundamental principle in democratic societies is that the majority rules, but the rights of the minority and individual members are also protected. Most business is adopted by a majority vote of members who are voting at a meeting where a quorum is present. However, to protect the rights of the minority and absent members, some motions require a two-thirds vote. The principle used to determine when to take a two-thirds vote is based on the rights of the members or the assembly. When a proposed action takes away members' rights, a two-thirds vote is necessary. Motions to limit or extend debate, to close debate, to make a motion a special order, to rescind an action when no previous notice is given, and to suspend the rules are some of the motions that require a two-thirds vote. Some actions are so important (for example, amending the bylaws and other governing documents, or removing a member from office or membership) that they require both previous notice and a two-thirds vote.

If an organization wants the vote on certain issues to be greater than a majority or two-thirds vote, or it wants to require that previous notice of a vote be given, the bylaws should clearly state and define these qualifications. However, requiring a vote higher than a majority or two-thirds vote can allow a minority to rule instead of the majority, and a unanimous vote may end up allowing one person to rule. A vote requiring more than a majority should not be stated in terms of a "super majority" (because that term is not specific) but should specify, for example, 80% of the members, three-fourths of the members, or a majority of the entire membership.

Majority Vote Defined

A majority vote simply means that more than half of those voting approve a motion. More specifically, it means that more than half of the votes cast by persons legally entitled to vote at a properly called meeting with a quorum present approve a motion. Blank ballots or abstentions do not count. By this definition, those voting - not necessarily those present - determine the majority. Here is an example:

If 20 people are present at the meeting and 15 members vote, the majority is 8, because the majority is determined by the number voting, not by the number present.

Modifications in Majority Vote

Organizations can qualify a majority vote by adding these phrases to the word "voting" in their bylaws:

These phrases change how the organization figures the majority. The more qualified the bylaws make a majority vote, the more difficult it is to adopt motions. Except for important issues and amending the bylaws, a simple, unqualified majority vote should adopt all actions.

A majority of those present

If an organization's bylaws state that a majority of those present must adopt a motion, the majority is figured by the number of members present, not by the number of those voting. Here is an example:

A meeting has 20 members present.

A majority of those present is 11 votes. This number does not change, no matter how many members present vote. If 15 people vote, and the following occurs,

10 members vote in the affirmative

5 members vote in the negative

5 members do not vote (abstain),

the motion fails because 11 people must vote in favor of the motion to sustain a majority of those present and adopt the motion.

In this example, those not voting are said to support the negative rather than remain neutral. For that reason, this qualification is not recommended.

A majority of the entire membership

If the bylaws state that a majority of the entire membership must adopt a motion, the number of the entire membership determines the majority, not the number of members who are present or the number of members who vote. Here are some examples:

The membership of the organization is 40.

The majority is always 21 votes in the affirmative.

At a meeting, 21 members attend. All would have to vote in favor of a motion in order for it to be adopted.

If only 20 attend the meeting, no motions can be adopted because it takes 21 votes to adopt.

If 30 members attend the meeting, and the votes are

20 votes in the affirmative

7 in the negative

3 abstentions,

the motion is lost because it takes 21 votes to adopt.

Requiring a majority of the entire membership is a helpful and useful qualification in one case: when the board is very small. Suppose an organization has an executive board of five members and the quorum is three members. If the bylaws state that a majority vote must adopt all action, and if only three members come to a meeting, two members are the majority and can make a decision. In this case, it is appropriate for the bylaws to require a majority vote of the entire membership of the board. Doing so ensures that if only three members attend a meeting, all three have to agree before any action is adopted.

Note: When the bylaws state "a majority of the entire membership," this means a majority of the members who are qualified to vote. Some organizations have a provision in the bylaws that states, "Members who have not paid their dues or are on probation cannot vote." Members who are not eligible to vote are not counted when figuring the number of votes required to get a "majority of the entire membership."

A majority of the fixed membership

If the governing documents state "a majority of the fixed membership," a majority is based on the total number of members, whether they are eligible to vote or not. For example, in condominium or homeowner associations, the majority is often based upon the number of lots or units in the association. This is considered a majority of the fixed membership. In this case, if the owner of a lot or unit does not pay the assessment, it does not affect the number of votes required to achieve the majority of the fixed membership. The number of votes required for a majority doesn't change unless more units are built or more lots are made available for sale.

The requirement to have a majority of the fixed membership can affect boards of directors if there are unfilled vacancies on the board. A majority of the fixed membership is based on the total number of the board positions, not the total number of persons serving in them. In contrast, if the majority is of the entire membership of the board, vacancies don't count. Only those positions in which there are directors serving are considered in the total number of board members. For example, if a board has 12 positions and three positions are vacant, and the basis is a majority of the entire membership, the count is based on the nine positions that are filled. The majority of the entire membership is five. However, a majority vote of the fixed membership is seven because it is based upon all 12 directors' positions, whether or not they are filled. When establishing the vote in the bylaws, take special care with how qualifications for the majority are worded. The more stringent you make the majority, the more difficult it is to obtain the majority and get things done.

To set the majority of the entire membership, the bylaws can state: "All motions shall be adopted by a majority of the entire board (not counting vacancies)."

To set the majority of the fixed membership, the bylaws may state: "All motions shall be adopted by a majority of the entire 12 directors of the board."

A TWO-THIRDS VOTE

In keeping with accepted parliamentary procedure, there are times when a two-thirds vote is required. This means that at a meeting where a quorum is present, it takes two-thirds of those voting in the affirmative to adopt a motion. Those who abstain are not counted.

To balance the rights of the individual member with the rights of the assembly, the following procedures require a two-thirds vote:

The two-thirds vote is taken by a rising vote. If the chair is uncertain whether there is a two-thirds vote in the affirmative, he or she should count those voting.

A THREE-FOURTHS VOTE

Some organizations require a three-fourths vote instead of a two-thirds vote in adopting certain types of business, electing officers, or electing applicants into membership. These organizations want to know that most of the members agree with what is proposed. They believe that the more members that are in favor of any proposal, the better the cooperation they will get in carrying out what is adopted. An easy way to figure this vote is to remember that every no vote needs three yes votes.

THE TIE VOTE

A tie vote occurs when 50% vote in favor and 50% vote against. No one receives a majority vote. If there is no way to break the tie vote, the motion is lost.

If the presiding officer has not voted and is a member of the assembly, he or she can vote to make or break the tie. He or she can also vote to make a two-thirds vote or to reject a two-thirds vote. If 50 members vote for the motion and 49 members vote against the motion, the presiding officer can state that he or she votes no, meaning that the vote is a tie and the motion is therefore lost. The presiding officer cannot vote twice, however - once as a member and once as the presiding officer. For example, if the presiding officer votes in a ballot vote with the other members and the result is a tie, the officer can't break the tie as the presiding officer. In this case, the motion is lost because the vote is a tie vote.

WAYS THE VOTE CAN BE TAKEN

There are numerous ways a vote can be taken: by voice, by show of hands, by standing, by ballot, by roll call, and by general consent. The chair or presiding officer decides whether to take the vote by voice, by show of hands, by standing, or by general consent. However, the assembly must order a vote by ballot or roll call. (See Chapter 18 for a discussion of the roll call vote.)

After members have discussed a motion, the chair puts it to a vote. The chair may ask,

Chairman: Are you ready for the question?

or

Chairman: Is there further discussion?

If no one rises to speak, the chair takes the vote, asking for the affirmative first and then the negative. The chair does not ask for abstentions.

Taking a Vote by Voice

In taking a vote by voice, the chair states:

Chairman: The question is on the adoption of the motion to buy a computer and a laser printer for the office. All those in favor say "Aye." Those opposed say "No."

The chair then repeats the outcome. If the ayes have it, the chair states:

Chairman: The ayes have it. The motion is carried, and we will buy a computer and a laser printer for the office. The secretary will purchase it.

If the noes have it, the chair states:

Chairman: The noes have it. The motion is lost, and we will not buy a computer and a laser printer for the office. Is there further business?

Taking a Vote by Show of Hands

In taking a vote by show of hands, the chair says:

Chairman: All those in favor, please raise your right hand. [raise hand] Please lower them. Those opposed raise their right hand. [raise hand] Please lower them.

The chair then announces the vote. If the affirmative has it, the chair states:

Chairman: The affirmative has it. The motion is carried, and we will buy a computer and a laser printer for the office. The secretary will purchase it.

If the negative has it, the chair states:

Chairman: The negative has it. The motion is lost, and we will not buy a computer and a laser printer for the office. Is there further business?

Taking a Vote by Rising (Standing)

Use the rising (or standing) method when taking a two-thirds vote as well as when retaking a voice vote when a member calls for a division.

In taking a rising vote, the chair says:

Chairman: All those in favor, please rise. [Members rise.] Be seated. [Members sit down.] Those opposed please rise. [Members rise.] Be seated. [Members sit down.]

The chair then announces the vote. If the affirmative has it, the chair states:

Chairman: The affirmative has it. The motion is carried, and we will buy a computer and a laser printer for the office. The secretary will purchase it.

If the negative has it, the chair states:

Chairman: The negative has it. The motion is lost, and we will not buy a computer and a laser printer for the office. Is there further business?

Taking a Vote by Ballot

When taking a ballot vote, everyone gets to vote, including the presiding officer (if he or she is a member), unless the organization has a rule that states differently. In this case, the chair explains the procedure to the membership as it happens:

Chairman: This vote will be taken by ballot. Will the tellers please give a ballot to each member. [Pause while this happens.]

Does everyone have a ballot? [Wait for a response. If someone doesn't have a ballot, direct a teller to give one to that member.]

If you are in favor of buying a computer and a laser printer for the office, write "yes" on the ballot. If you are opposed, write "no." Fold the paper in half, and give it to the tellers' committee when they collect the ballots.

If there is a ballot box, the chair instructs the members to rise and put the ballots in the box.

After it looks like everyone has voted, the chair can ask:

Chairman: Has everyone voted who wants to vote?

If there is a motion to close the polls at this time, it needs a second, and it requires a two-thirds vote to adopt. If someone has not voted and wants to, this is the time to speak up. After the polls are closed, a majority can reopen them for voting. The chair waits for a response, and if no one rises to hand in a ballot, the chair states:

Chairman: The polls are closed, and the tellers will count the votes.

The tellers' committee (see Chapter 12) then counts the ballots and puts the result on a teller's sheet.

The chairman of the tellers' committee reads the report to the membership but does not announce the result of the vote. He or she then hands the report to the presiding officer, who states:

Chairman: The teller's report reads:

22 ballots are cast.

A majority to adopt is 12.

15 voted in the affirmative.

7 voted in the negative.

The affirmative has it, and the motion is adopted. We will buy a computer and a laser printer. The secretary is responsible for purchasing it.

In taking a ballot vote:

Taking a Vote by Mail

In large international organizations, some homeowners and condo associations, or organizations whose members are not centrally located, a mail ballot is a common practice to elect officers and amend the bylaws. An organization's bylaws must state that it can use a mail ballot. Likewise, the organization should adopt procedures on how to handle the mail ballot. If the secretary is not responsible for sending out the mail ballots, an accurate up-to-date membership list should be given to those responsible for mailing the ballot.

If the ballot is not secret, the organization may follow these procedures:

This envelope may be an unusual color or size so the organization knows that it is a ballot instead of regular mail.

If the mail ballot is secret, follow other procedures:

Record the vote in the minutes of the next meeting. If the association meets yearly but has quarterly or monthly board meetings, record the vote in the minutes of the next board meeting, and send an announcement of the election results to all members.

Taking a Vote by E-mail

The procedure for voting by mail can be adapted to e-mail voting in the following manner. The person who collects the ballots sends out the e-mail ballot to all eligible voters. The sender should use an e-mail program that requests a return receipt from the recipient. Doing so shows that members received the ballot and that the return ballot comes from the member to whom the e-mail was sent. Balloting instructions should tell how to fill out the ballot and how to return it to the organization. The first instruction on the ballot should say "hit 'reply'; this enables you to fill out the ballot." The instructions should also tell how to send the ballot back once it is filled out. (This is the instruction to click "send.") The person who originally sends it out receives the ballot.

The person collecting the ballots should have a "ballot box" folder in his or her e-mail program. When ballots come in, put them in the ballot box folder. After all the ballots come in, save them on a disk as a back-up. Then print out the ballots so a tellers' committee can count them. As additional back-up, you can also print out and put in a file each ballot as it comes in.

The drawback to e-mail voting is that members give up their right to have a secret vote. The tellers' committee will know how each member voted. It is also possible for hackers to break into e-mail systems.

Taking a Vote by General or Unanimous Consent

General consent is a very effective way to take care of non­controversial issues or motions for which it looks like there will be no objection. General consent does not mean that everyone is in favor of the motion; it means that the opposition feels that discussing or voting on the issue is useless and therefore decides to keep silent, accepting the results. Do not confuse general consent with a unanimous vote in which all the votes are the same, whether in favor of or in opposition to some issue.

In taking the vote by general consent, the chair states:

Chairman: Is there any objection to . . .

Is there any objection to paying the bills?

Hearing none, the bills will be paid by the treasurer.

Is there any objection to taking a five-minute recess?

Hearing none, the meeting stands in recess for five minutes.

Is there any objection to withdrawing the motion?

Hearing none, the motion is withdrawn.

Is there any objection to adjourning the meeting?

Hearing none, the meeting is adjourned.

If a member calls out "I object!" the president puts the motion to a formal vote:

Chairman: All those in favor of paying the bills say "Aye." Those opposed say "No." The ayes have it. The motion is carried, and the treasurer will pay the bills.

Another aspect of general consent is that the chair can assume a motion; he or she does not have to wait for someone else to make the motion. For example, after the treasurer or the secretary submits the amount of the bills to be paid, the chair assumes the motion to pay the bills and then asks if there is any objection to paying them.

Chairman: Is there any objection to paying the bills for a total of $100? Hearing no objection, the bills will be paid.

If a member makes a motion to recess as a privileged motion, the chair can ask:

Chairman: Is there any objection to taking a five-minute recess? Hearing none, the meeting stands in recess for five minutes.

If a member objects, it does not necessarily mean that the member is against the action but that the member thinks that taking a formal vote is wise.

If a member objects, and no formal motion has been presented, the chair must then either ask for a motion or assume a motion, ask for discussion, and then take a formal vote.

Chairman: The question is on the adoption of paying the bills for $100. Is there any discussion? [Pause and wait for discussion. If none, take the vote.] Hearing none, all those in favor of paying the bills say "Aye." Those opposed say

"No." The ayes have it, and the motion is carried. The treasurer will pay the bills.

If a member is not sure about the effect of taking a vote by general consent, the member can call out, "I reserve the right to object." After a brief consultation, the member must either object or relinquish the right to object.

DOUBTING THE RESULT OF THE VOTE

It is the presiding officer's duty to announce the result of the vote, and the way he or she announces it determines the action taken. If the members do not immediately doubt the result of the vote, the chair's declaration stands as the decision of the assembly. The members have the right to doubt the result of the vote until the chair states the question on another motion.

Calling for a Division

If a member thinks that the vote is too close to call or that the noes have it, and the chair announces the ayes have it, the member can call out

Member: Division.

or

Member: I doubt the result of the vote.

This should not be used as a dilatory tactic to delay the proceedings when it is apparent which side has won.

A division is an incidental motion: It deals with a procedural question relating to a pending motion or business. It does not need a second and is not debatable. One member can ask to retake the vote, and the vote is never retaken in the same way. Thus, a doubted voice vote must be retaken visually, by a rising vote. This way, all the members can see how people are voting. The chair states:

Chairman: A division has been called for. All those in favor please rise. [Members rise.] Be seated. [Members sit down.] Those opposed please rise. [Members rise.] Be seated. [Members sit down.]

The chair then announces the vote.

If the vote still looks too close to call, the chair can retake it by having it counted. If a member wants the vote to be counted, he or she makes a motion to take a counted vote. The motion to take a counted vote needs a second, is not debatable, and takes a majority to adopt.

The chair retakes the vote by first asking those in favor of the motion to stand and count off. The chair then asks those opposed to a motion to stand and count off. (The member sits down as he counts off.) After all have voted, the chair announces the vote. The vote should be recorded in the minutes by saying how many have voted in the affirmative and how many have voted in the negative.

Doubting the Result of a Ballot Vote or Roll Call Vote

If the members doubt the result of a ballot vote or roll call vote, a member must make a motion to recount the teller's tabulation. This motion takes a majority to adopt unless the organization has a rule that states differently. After a ballot vote, if there is no possibility that the assembly may order a recount, a motion should be made to destroy the ballots; or they can be filed for a specified time with the secretary and then destroyed.

Record the result of every ballot and roll call vote in the minutes.

OTHER VOTING PROCEDURES

There are other voting methods, such as proxy voting, absentee voting, and preferential voting. If an organization wishes to use any of these methods, the bylaws should state this fact as well as include the written procedures for carrying out the voting.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT VOTING

Q. Does a member have to vote?

A. No. Choosing not to vote is abstaining. Even though having each member vote is in the best interest of the member and the organization, no one can compel a member to vote.

Q. Is an abstention counted as a yes vote or a no vote?

A. To abstain means "not to vote." You can't count a nonvote. Therefore, an abstention counts as a zero.

Q. Can an abstention affect the result of a vote?

A. Yes, when the vote is qualified in some way, such as when a majority of those present or a majority of the entire membership is required. If the majority is determined by "those present," and 20 people are present, a majority is 11. If 10 vote in the affirmative, 9 vote in the negative, and 1 person abstains, the motion is lost because it takes 11 voting in the affirmative to adopt the motion. In this case, the abstention helps those voting no.

Q. Is there a time when a member is not allowed to vote?

A. Yes, when a motion is of direct personal or monetary interest to the member and to no one else, the member should not vote.

Q. Is there a time when a member can vote on a motion that directly affects him or her?

A. Yes, when the member is named with other members in a motion. For example, when the member is a delegate to a convention or when the member is nominated for an office.

Q. Can a member vote if his or her dues are not paid?

A. If a member has not been dropped from the rolls and is not under disciplinary action, the member still has the full rights of membership, including the right to vote, unless the bylaws specifically address this situation.

Q. Can a member change his or her vote?

A. Yes, a member has the right to change his or her vote until the result is announced. After the result is announced, however, the member can change his or her vote only by permission of the assembly. Permission can be granted by general consent or by a motion to grant permission which needs a second, is undebatable, and takes a majority vote to adopt.

Q. Who makes the final decision on judging voting procedures?

A. The assembly makes the final decision on judging voting procedures unless the bylaws state differently. For example, if the tellers are unsure about how a ballot is marked, they can bring it to the assembly to decide.

Q. What is an illegal vote and how is it counted?

A. An illegal vote refers only to a vote taken by ballot. An illegal vote is a ballot:

Q. What happens to an illegal ballot?

A. An illegal ballot is not counted, but it is considered in the number for establishing the majority. It is listed on the teller's report as an illegal ballot. For example, if 20 people vote, a majority is 11. If 10 people vote for candidate X, 8 people vote for candidate Y, and 2 votes are illegal (one is unreadable; the other voted for Robin Hood), no one wins because no one received a majority vote. Another vote is required.

Q. How should the tellers collect a ballot vote?

A. There are three possible ways:

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