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Part II


Chapter 6 - Motions

Motions are tools that enable an organization to accomplish business efficiently and smoothly. They are the means of bringing business before the assembly, disposing of it quickly, and resolving matters of procedure and urgency. This chapter explains the five classes of motions and how each is used.


Motions help the members accomplish what they have come to the meeting to do. There are five classes of motions:


I. Main II. Subsidiary
III. Privileged
IV. Incidental (Secondary)
V. Motions that bring a question again before the assembly

The first class of motions - main motions - is used to present new business. The secondary motions - subsidiary, privileged, and incidental motions - can either help adopt the main motion or help business move forward according to the members' wishes. The last class of motions returns a motion to the assembly for reconsideration. Each class of motions has a certain purpose and is assigned an order in which it can be brought up in a meeting. This assigned order is called ranking motions and follows the principle of taking up business one item at a time.

The better the members understand how to use motions correctly to expedite the organization's business, the shorter the meetings and the happier the members because they have accomplished their business in a minimum amount of time.

Main Motions

There are two forms of a main motion. The first form introduces new business to the assembly. The other form is the incidental main motion, which deals with procedural questions arising out of pending motions or business; it does not introduce a new topic.

Motions that introduce new business

A main motion that brings new business before the assembly is made while no business is pending. It needs a second, is debatable and amendable, and takes a majority vote to adopt. A main motion is phrased in the positive. Usually when the members don't want to do something, making a motion is not necessary. For example, if an organization received a request to donate money to the parade fund, and the members don't want to do this, they don't make a motion. It's not necessary for a member to make a motion stating "we will not give money to the parade committee." However, there is an exception to this rule. If a subsidiary body (for example, a board of directors) has the ability to give the donation without membership approval, it is then appropriate to make a motion to refrain from giving money to the parade committee. Therefore, the board cannot give money, because the membership specifically voted not to do that. A board cannot rescind what the members have voted to do, or not to do in this case.

Only one main motion can be pending at a time. (Pending refers to a motion placed before the assembly for discussion by the chair.) A main motion is the lowest ranking of all the motions. This means that any secondary motion is discussed and voted on before a pending main motion.

An important point to remember in presenting business and making a main motion is that of ownership - who owns the main motion. When a member makes a main motion, it belongs to the maker of the motion until it is repeated by the chairman and placed before the assembly. Before the chair repeats the main motion, the person making the main motion can withdraw it or modify it without asking permission of the assembly.

After the chair places the main motion before the assembly, it belongs to the entire assembly, not to the maker of the motion. The assembly now decides what happens to the motion. It can be killed, delayed, or altered to suit the assembly's wishes. The assembly may make changes of which the maker of the motion disapproves. This is part of the democratic process: the right of the assembly to decide what affects it as a whole body. Therefore, after the motion is placed before the assembly, no one has to ask the maker of the motion for permission to make any changes.

Incidental main motions

An incidental main motion is also made while no business is pending, but it does not introduce new business. Instead, it deals with procedure. An example of a main motion is: "I move to buy a new computer and a laser printer." After this motion is adopted, an incidental main motion is: "I move that the finance committee be in charge of purchasing the computer and the laser printer." This incidental main motion is debatable and amendable. It is related to the main motion because it deals with who is going to carry out the adopted action of the main motion. Therefore, the motion is incidental to the motion from which it arises. Key words to use to identify incidental main motions include ratify, adopt, limit, and recess. For example, a member may make an incidental main motion to adopt proposals made in a committee report, ratify action taken in the absence of a quorum, or recess when no business is pending.

The motion to ratify is a useful motion when the assembly has to confirm action taken when there was no quorum present; when the assembly has to take emergency action without a quorum present; when officers, committee members, or delegates have acted in excess of their instructions; or when a local unit needs the approval of the state or national organization before something can be done. A motion to ratify needs a second, is debatable, and needs a majority vote to adopt. The assembly can only ratify what it would have had the right to do in advance. It can't ratify something that goes against the bylaws or other governing documents.

The motion to ratify can be amended by substituting the motion to censure. Censure is a way for the members to show displeasure with a member's or officer's conduct. Instead of ratifying an action, members can censure officers or committee members for taking action without getting prior approval. Censure shows the assembly's indignation without going so far as expulsion or removal from office. The motion to censure is debatable. The person being censured can debate the motion but cannot vote on the motion. The vote should be taken by a secret ballot. See Chapter 15 for more information on discipline.

Secondary Motions

In the five classes of motions, three are considered secondary motions: subsidiary, privileged, and incidental. Secondary motions help the assembly decide what to do with the main motion or how to get things done in the meeting. Secondary motions enable more than one motion to be pending at a time but still follow the principle of taking up business one item at a time. In parliamentary terminology, pending means "a motion that is stated by the chair and placed before the assembly for discussion and has not yet been disposed of by the assembly." While a main motion is pending, a member can propose a secondary motion. Secondary motions are taken up in the order that they are made. As each secondary motion is proposed, it is considered the immediately pending motion. The assembly discusses the most recently proposed secondary motion instead of the main motion or a previously pending secondary motion.

Secondary motions are assigned an order, called a ranking of motions (see "The Ladder of Motions" later in this chapter), in which they are proposed, discussed, and voted on.

Members can make motions of higher rank while a motion of lower rank is pending; but members can't make a lower-ranking motion while a motion of higher rank is pending. As each higher-ranking motion is proposed, members stop discussing the lower-ranking motion and immediately discuss the higher-ranking motion, which now becomes the pending motion. The following explains how the subsidiary, privileged, and incidental motions fit into this hierarchy of motions.

Subsidiary motions

Subsidiary motions help the assembly dispose of the main motion. Adopting a subsidiary motion always does something to the main motion. Subsidiary motions are assigned an order of precedence or rank so that the organization can take up business one item at a time. The following list shows subsidiary motions ranked from top to bottom. The highest-ranking subsidiary motion is lay on the table and the lowest is postpone indefinitely.

Subsidiary Motions

Privileged motions

Privileged motions do not relate to the pending main motion. Instead, they relate to special matters of immediate importance that may come up in the business meeting. Because these are usually urgent matters, the organization must take them up immediately. Thus, privileged motions are of higher rank and take precedence over subsidiary motions. They are undebatable, but some are amendable. After they have been made and seconded, the chair takes a vote without discussion. Like subsidiary motions, privileged motions are assigned an order in which they can be made and voted on. When a motion of lower rank is pending, only a higher-ranking motion can be made. As the following list shows, the highest-ranking privileged motion is fix the time to which to adjourn. (This is the highest ranking of both privileged and subsidiary motions.) If this motion is made while any other subsidiary or privileged motion is pending, the members must vote on it first.

Privileged Motions

Incidental motions

Incidental motions deal with questions of procedure arising from the pending business, but they do not affect the pending business. Examples are raising a question about parliamentary procedure in the meeting, asking a question about the motion under discussion, or pointing out that a very important rule was broken or ignored. Incidental motions are usually not debatable and must be decided upon immediately. They have no rank because they are taken up immediately when made. Here are some of the incidental motions:

(that's against the rules)

(disagree with chair's ruling)

(doubt the result of the vote)

(I have a question)

(temporarily put aside a rule)

(divide a motion into two or more questions)

Motions That Bring a Question Again Before the Assembly

The purpose of the last class of motions is to bring a motion back before the assembly for its consideration. For example, a motion that was laid on the table (temporarily set aside) is brought back by the motion take from the table. When members want to change their minds about a motion that was just voted on, they can reconsider the vote. If members are unhappy with action taken at a previous meeting, they can rescind the action or amend something previously adopted. One other motion in this category is to discharge a committee. Discharging a committee takes a motion out of committee before the committee has made its final report and puts it back into the hands of the assembly. All these motions are made when no other business is pending. They need a second and are debatable except for take from the table, which is not debatable. If no previous notice has been given, rescinding or amending something previously adopted requires a two-thirds vote. This protects the rights of the members who are not at the meeting to vote against the change.


Some motions are so important that the membership has the right to know beforehand that they are going to be presented at the meeting. Doing so is called giving previous notice. Examples of motions that need previous notice are amending the bylaws and rules of order. Organizations may state in their bylaws that previous notice must be given for selling and buying property or for spending large amounts of money. Giving previous notice when a member wants to rescind or change an adopted motion allows a majority vote to adopt it. Previous notice protects the rights of members by alerting them that such action will be taken. Those who voted in favor of the action are sure to attend the meeting to support the decision they have already made.

Members can give previous notice in several ways. If a member submits a written notice to the secretary, the secretary is obligated to put it into the call letter to the meeting. Or, members can give notice orally at the previous meeting. The person giving previous notice may simply state the intent instead of giving the entire motion, unless the organization has rules stating differently. For example, a member can say, "I will be making a motion at the next meeting to rescind the charity ball."


The principle of taking up one item of business at a time requires that main motions, subsidiary motions, and privileged motions are assigned a rank.

If you think of this rank of motions as a ladder, the main motion is the bottom rung. The following chart, "Ladder of Motions in Order of Rank," illustrates this idea. When the main motion is pending (being discussed), someone can make a motion of higher rank. For example, someone can make the motion to amend. If you look at the chart, notice that you are two steps up the ladder. Amend becomes the pending question because it is a higher-ranking motion than the main motion. Discussion is now on the motion to amend and not on the main motion. A member can now make a higher-ranking motion than amend, but no one can make the motion to postpone indefinitely because it is a lower-ranking motion than amend.

When making the motions, you go up the ladder, and when voting on the pending motions, you go backward down the ladder. For example, say the following motions have been made and are pending:


Postpone to a certain time


Main motion

In taking the vote, the president starts with the motion to recess. If adopted, the members take a recess and begin discussing postpone to a certain time when they return. They then vote on it. If adopted, the proposed amendment and main motion are put off until a later time. When the time arrives to take up this main motion and amendment, the members begin the meeting with discussing the amendment. After the amendment is voted on, the members vote on the main motion.


Ladder of Motions In Order of Rank

Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

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