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Chapter 17 - Strategies for Individual Motions Illustrated

This chapter provides strategies that you can use with various classes of motions. It explains in brief the purpose of each strategic motion and how members can use that motion in a meeting to help adopt - or defeat - another motion. This chapter also explains the countermotions for each strategic motion.

As you read about the various classes of motions and their countermotions, keep in mind the fundamentals about main motions. Recall that before a member can discuss a topic at a meeting, he or she must state it as a main motion and second it. If the motion does not get a second, it is not placed before the assembly. However, if members begin debating a motion that does not have a second, the fact that it was never seconded is a moot point. After discussion begins, no one can stop the discussion on the motion nor prevent a vote on it because it was not seconded. A second does not mean that someone is in favor of the motion, only that another member wants to hear it discussed. The maker of the motion has the first right to discuss the motion. After the chair states the motion, it belongs to the assembly, not to the maker of the motion, and members can alter the motion as they see fit.

Members can take an immediate counteraction when a motion is proposed by objecting to its consideration. Or, they can apply subsidiary motions to the main motion to change or defeat it. The following sections explain these strategies. The motions are given in the same order as in Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised according to each motion's rank. (For additional information on any of these motions, see Part II.)


If a member believes that a main motion would be detrimental to the organization or a member to discuss (for example, if a very controversial issue has the potential to split the membership in half), he or she can immediately object to its consideration. A two-thirds vote in the negative (that is, against consideration) is required to sustain the objection and not consider the main motion. In taking the vote the president asks,

President: Shall the motion be considered?


The following subsidiary and privileged motions can help either adopt or defeat the main motion. Countermotions are given for each motion.

Postpone Indefinitely

The motion to postpone indefinitely has three purposes: to kill the main motion, to test the strength of opposition on the motion, and to enable a member to speak two more times to the main motion. It requires a second and is debatable. During debate of this subsidiary motion, members can discuss the main motion. If the motion to postpone indefinitely is adopted, it kills the main motion for the duration of the meeting. However, members can bring up the main motion again at the same meeting by a motion to reconsider the vote. (An affirmative vote to postpone indefinitely can be reconsidered.) Or, members can bring up the motion again according to the rules of renewal of a motion. Members can also bring up the main motion before the assembly at another meeting.

Strategies for countering a motion to postpone indefinitely are:


The purpose of the motion to amend is to change the main motion either to make it more agreeable or to defeat it. In the latter case, the motion may be a hostile amendment. For example, if someone moved to give the secretary a raise, someone else can propose an amendment to give the secretary a decrease in salary.

Another way members can use an amendment to defeat a motion is to substitute another motion for the main motion, which the following section discusses.

Strategies for countering a motion to amend are:

Each member can always speak and vote against any proposed amendment with one exception: If the main motion is amended, the maker of the main motion can vote against it but cannot speak against the motion.


If a member does not like a motion, he or she can make a motion to strike out all or part of the motion and replace it. This is the motion to substitute. Members can use this method to strike out a paragraph, a section, an article, or even the entire motion or resolution. In the case of a main motion, substitute replaces one main motion with another main motion. Members can also use this motion to make more than one change at a time.

There are specific procedures for using the motion to substitute. For example, say a member makes the following main motion:

Member 1: I move to buy a new word processing typewriter.

Another member can amend the motion by substitution:

Member 2: I move to amend the motion by striking out the entire motion and substituting "to buy a computer and a laser printer."

The motion to substitute needs a second and is debatable. It is considered a primary amendment (see Chapter 6), and members cannot make it when another primary amendment is pending. Debate can focus on the merits of both the original main motion and the substitute. Through debating, the membership decides which motion is the main motion.

The chair states the motion to substitute this way:

President: It is moved and seconded to amend the motion by striking out the main motion and substituting "to buy a computer and a laser printer." Is there any discussion?

Member 2: I believe that buying a computer and a laser printer would be a better investment for us than a word processing typewriter because it does more than word processing. The treasurer could keep all the financial records on the computer. Others could use it too and have their own files. A word processing typewriter will soon be obsolete.

Member 1: I speak against the substitute motion and for the typewriter. Right now this is all the organization needs, and we need to think of our budget.

Debate goes on until the members are ready to vote. The chair takes the vote this way:

President: The question is on the motion to substitute. Shall the motion to buy a computer replace the motion to buy a typewriter as the main motion of the assembly? As many as are in favor say "Aye." Those opposed say "No." The ayes have it, and motion to substitute is adopted. The pending question (to be considered now) is to buy a computer and a laser printer. Is there any discussion?

If the noes have it, the chair would say:

President: The noes have it, and the motion to substitute is lost. The question is on buying a word processing typewriter. Is there any discussion?

Remember that during this process, members vote to determine which motion is the main motion. The vote taken does not adopt either the main motion or the substitute motion. After the motion to substitute is decided by a vote, the main motion is considered by the membership just like any other main motion.

The perfecting process

During the substitution process, members can amend both the main motion and the substitute motion. This is the perfecting process. It allows members, if they wish, to make the pending main motion more attractive to the group. Those in favor of the substitution may want to amend to compromise, so that the motion to substitute will be adopted.

If members want to amend either the pending main motion or the substitute motion, the chair must first take amendments on the pending main motion - the motion that was made first. After the members finish amending the pending main motion, the chair takes amendments on the substitute motion. When this is finished, the chair takes a vote to determine which of these motions is the main motion.

In the perfecting process, members must remember this rule: If the substitute motion is adopted as the main motion, members can't amend it further except for adding non-modifying matter. For example, if the substitute motion has been amended to "buy a computer and a laser printer not to exceed $2,000," no one may strike out and insert anything further in the motion - to strike out "laser" and insert "ink jet" is out of order. But a member can add at the end "by July 1." It is important that members make all changes to the substitute motion in the perfecting process. If the motion to buy a typewriter is voted the main motion, members can further amend it because it was the original main motion.

Fill in the blank

Another helpful form of amending that members can use as a strategy to get more input from other members is the incidental motion fill in the blank. This motion is a way to consider more than a primary and a secondary amendment at the same time. When members have many different ideas about specifics in a motion, such as dollar amounts, dates, times, places, names of nominees, and so on, this is a helpful procedure.

Fill in the blank allows members to strike out the specific piece of information in question, such as a date, place, time, or number, and to create a blank in the motion. The blank lets members consider many alternatives without having to go through a long amending process. This motion must be seconded, is not debatable, and must be voted on immediately.

For example, a member makes a motion to "buy a computer and a laser printer not to exceed the cost of $2,000." A second member moves to strike out "$2,000" and insert "$3,000."

What if several members had other ideas about the cost? Someone can move to create a blank.

Member: Madam President.

President: [assigns the member the floor]

Member: I move to strike out "$3,000" and create a blank.

Member 2: Second.

President: It is moved and seconded to strike out "$3,000" and create a blank. As many as are in favor say "Aye." Those opposed say "No." [None are opposed.] The ayes have it, and a blank is created. The chair will now take suggestions on filling the blank.

Any member can rise and, without recognition, insert an amount to fill the blank. These proposals do not need a second. Each member can give only one suggestion to fill the blank and cannot give a second suggestion unless he or she has unanimous consent to do so. The suggestion that was struck out to create the blank also becomes one of the suggestions to fill the blank.

When members have finished giving their suggestions, debate is open on all pending suggestions. After debate ceases, the chair takes a voice vote or, in small assemblies, takes a vote by a show of hands on all the suggestions until one suggestion receives a majority vote. It is important for members to vote for or against all suggestions because the first suggestion to get a majority vote is adopted and fills the blank. The chair should begin the voting with the least likely suggestion to be adopted. Here is an example of filling the blank:

President: The motion to fill the blank has been created. Are there any suggestions?

Member 2: One thousand five hundred dollars.

President: One thousand five hundred dollars. [writes it down]

Member 3: Two thousand five hundred dollars.

President: Two thousand five hundred dollars. [writes it down]

Member 4: Four thousand dollars.

President: Four thousand dollars. [writes it down] Are there any more suggestions? [looks around and sees no one rising] Is there any discussion on the proposed suggestions?

Member 2: Madam President.

President: [assigns the floor]

Member 2: I believe we can get the computer and printer that we need for $1,500, and anything over that would be unnecessary for our needs.

Member 3: Madam President.

President: [assigns the floor]

Member 3: I am for the amount of $2,500. Most laser printers cost between $500 and $600, and to get a computer that has all the programming we need will cost more than $1,500.

Member 1: Madam President.

President: [assigns the floor]

Member 1: I am for $3,000. If we buy one that costs less, we will have to install it ourselves. I know of a good computer system that we can buy from a company who will install it and teach us how to use it.

President: Is there any further discussion? [pause] If not, the question is on filling the blank.

Before members vote, the president should explain the voting procedure and then repeat all the suggestions for filling the blank.

President: The suggestions proposed, beginning with the largest amount, are $4,000, $3,000, $2,500, $2,000, and $1,500. The chair will take the vote beginning with $4,000 and work to the smallest sum until an amount receives a majority vote. Each member needs to vote yes or no when each amount is presented. Voting will continue until one of these amounts receives a majority vote. As many as are in favor of $4,000 say "Aye." [One person says "Aye."] Those opposed say "No." [The rest say "No."] The noes have it, $4,000 is defeated, and the question is on $3,000. As many as are in favor say "Aye." [A majority says "Aye."] Those opposed say "No." [Two say "No."] The ayes have it, and the blank is filled with $3,000.

When the blank is filled, voting on the proposals to fill the blank stops. The president then takes a vote on the amendment.

President: The question is on the amendment "not to exceed $3,000." As many as are in favor say "Aye." Those opposed say "No." The ayes have it, and the amendment is adopted. The question is on the motion as amended, "to buy a computer and a laser printer not to exceed $3,000."

The president continues the discussion of the motion as amended or takes a vote.

Presiding officer's prerogative to propose creating a blank

If a member does not call for creating a blank and the presiding officer thinks that one is needed, the president can say:

President: The chair suggests creating a blank by striking out "$2,000." If there is no objection to creating a blank [pause and look to see if there is an objection], the blank is created. [pause]

The presiding officer should pause and wait to see if there is an objection. If there is an objection, he or she can take a vote on creating a blank. Members can make the incidental motion to create a blank when either a primary or a secondary amendment is pending.

Special note about filling the blank

The presiding officer should keep the following rules in mind when calling for a vote to fill in a blank:

Refer to a Committee

One of the purposes of the motion to refer to a committee is to appoint a small group to investigate the motion and bring back their findings. In meetings where people are undecided about a motion or where a lot of amending goes on, the motion to refer to a committee is helpful. It lets a small group work out the details and then present those details to the assembly, which can ultimately save time.

In organizations that have semiannual or annual meetings, to refer a motion to a committee keeps the motion within the control of the assembly and ensures that it will be put on the agenda of the next semiannual or annual meeting.

However, if a member does not want the motion referred to a committee because he or she wants the organization to decide it now, the member can move that the assembly act as the committee. Doing so takes away the limits on debate and allows for flexibility in the discussion.

If one member moves to refer a motion to a committee but another member wants to consider it now, the second member can either debate against referral or amend it by striking out "the committee" and inserting that "the assembly act as the committee." If this amendment is adopted and the motion that the assembly act as the committee is adopted, then a solution may be reached at the meeting.

When members have many conflicting viewpoints about a matter, another helpful use of the motion refer to a committee is to establish breakout groups of 10 to 12 people who meet during a recess. Each group has an appointed moderator, and the groups meet in informal discussion to come up with solutions. After the meeting reconvenes, the moderators of each group give their reports. The reporting is a form of debate.

The breakout group must then return the motion to the assembly for a final decision.

Strategies for countering the motion to refer to committee are:

If the organization meets quarterly or less frequently and a member wants a motion decided before the next meeting, he or she can make the motion to fix the time to which to adjourn. (In other words, set the time for an adjourned meeting and then have the committee report back at that meeting.) Alternatively, a member can make the motion to recess and then have breakout groups meet to see if it can resolve issues without having to refer the motion to a committee.

The assembly needs to be alert to the possibility that some members will refer a motion to a committee with the intention of letting the issue die in committee. Members should pay attention to when the committee is to report back to the assembly, as well as to who is appointed to serve on the committee. For instance, say that a member moves that a committee be appointed to do a feasibility study of selling the organization's building and building a new facility. If many of the members appointed to the committee do not want to sell the building, the committee may not do what it was instructed to do. As a result of inattentive selection of committee members for this committee, the whole issue may die in committee. The proper procedure for correcting such a problem is to discharge the committee and appoint a new one.

Postpone to a Certain Time

The motion to postpone to a certain time is very useful when a member believes that too few members are present to make a representative decision. For example, say that there are just enough members present to conduct the meeting, and a controversial motion is made. A member can move to postpone it to the next meeting, arguing in debate that this motion is best discussed when more members are present.

Members can also use postpone to a certain time to delay a motion until later in the meeting, especially when it's known that members who may be informed about the subject are arriving late.

Likewise, members can use this motion to postpone a pending motion until later in the meeting so that the members can take up other business first. Another use is to postpone to the next meeting so that members have more time to think about an issue.

If a motion is controversial and members are getting angry in the debate, a member can make this motion. If adopted, it gives the members time to think about the issue and to cool off.

If a member is concerned about a motion being postponed until either later in the meeting or the next meeting and then not being taken up, he or she can amend the motion to make it a special order for a definite time. The special order ensures that the assembly takes up the motion at that specifically designated time.

Strategies for countering motions to postpone to a certain time include the following:

Limit or Extend the Limits of Debate

The motion to limit debate is useful when a lot has to be accomplished at a meeting and members are long-winded. Before any business is proposed, a member can make an incidental main motion that limits debate to, say, 5 minutes per person, or that limits the debate for each subject discussed to 15 minutes. During debate, members can make a motion "limit debate to 10 more minutes and take a vote."

After members adopt a motion to limit debate, they may change their minds later in the meeting and want to extend the debate. They can either reconsider the vote on the motion to limit debate or suspend the rules and extend the debate.

When you need to keep a debate brief, the most useful form of this motion is to limit the amount of time each member can speak. Most people can get their points across in 5 minutes.

Strategies for countering the motion to limit debate are:

Previous Question

The purpose of the motion previous question is to stop debate immediately and take the vote. It is one of the most misunderstood and misused motions in a meeting, and members need to know how to defend themselves from its abuses.

The first abuse occurs when members call out "question" and the chair immediately stops debate and takes a vote on the motion. If this happens, a member can call out "point of order" and remind the chair that someone needs to make a formal motion to close debate, the motion needs a second, and the vote must be two-thirds in the affirmative to close the debate.

Another abuse in meetings occurs when a member makes a main motion and then someone immediately moves the previous question to try to force an immediate vote. If the chair allows this tactic, a member should raise a point of order, stating that members have the right to debate. Because no debate has been allowed, this motion is out of order.

Another often-used tactic occurs when the maker of the motion speaks for the motion and then another member immediately moves to close debate. Again, the chair should rule this motion out of order. If the chair does not, a member should raise a point of order. Debate means just that: All sides must be heard. If someone is allowed to debate for the motion, the opposition should have the right to debate against it.

One motion that is most helpful in counteracting previous question is recess. Recess is a higher-ranking motion and takes precedence over previous question. If recess is adopted, members have the opportunity to persuade the other members to vote against closing the debate.

Strategies for countering previous question are:

Lay on the Table

Lay on the table is another frequently misused motion in meetings. Because people have seen it misused so often, its misuse becomes acceptable.

Members often say, "Let's table this motion to the next meeting." Technically, there is no such motion in Robert's Rules of Order. To "table to the next meeting" is the motion to postpone to the next meeting. If the chair does not restate this as the motion to postpone to the next meeting and call for debate, a member should raise a point of order.

Lay on the table is correctly used to set aside an order of business in order to take up a more urgent item of business or to hear a speaker who can't stay for the completion of the pending business. However, the motion suspend the rules is the preferable motion to use. If members can't get a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules, they can move to lay each order of business on the table until they get to the order of business that they want to take up. After that business is completed, they then have to go back and take each order of business off the table. Using lay on the table to kill a motion or delay it to a later time is incorrect. Its only purpose is to temporarily put business aside so that the members can take up a more urgent matter.

Strategies for countering the motion to lay on the table are:


Privileged motions do not relate to the main motion or to subsidiary motions but to special matters of immediate importance that come up in a meeting.

Raise a Question of Privilege

The motion to raise a question of privilege is most useful when a member can't hear what is being said or when the room is too hot or too cold and you need to take care of these environmental problems immediately. This is a good motion for members to have in their parliamentary vocabulary.

Member: Mr. President (or Madam President), I rise to a question of privilege of the assembly.

This is one of the higher-ranking motions, which members can make at any time during a meeting, even when another member is assigned the floor. However, this motion can't interrupt voting or the verification of a vote.

Another form of raising a question of privilege is to go into executive session when the members need to have a confidential discussion or when members have sensitive information to give to the assembly concerning the subject under discussion. This motion is especially helpful in city government meetings, such as school board meetings, when members must discuss sensitive issues like hiring and firing. (Government meetings operating under open meeting laws, however, need to abide by the state laws for going into executive session.) If members want nonmembers to leave the room, a member can move to go into executive session.

Strategies for countering the two forms of this motion are:


Members can use recess in a multitude of ways. It can be used to cool off a heated argument in debate, to caucus with other members before a vote is taken, to give time to count ballots, or to let members get up and stretch. Likewise, members can use this motion to counteract the motions limit debate, close debate, and lay on the table.

Strategies for countering motions to recess are:


When the assembly has no set time to adjourn, members have the right to make the motion to adjourn. If this motion is made and defeated, members can make it again after there has been progress in the debate or business.

If a business meeting is getting out of hand, adjourn is a good way to put an end to it.

This motion is out of order when the assembly is engaged in voting or in verifying a vote, or if it is made before the result of the vote is announced by the chair. However, there is one exception to the rule that you can't adjourn while the assembly is engaged in voting. That exception occurs when a ballot vote has been taken and all the ballots have been collected but the result has not yet been announced.

Strategies for countering the motion to adjourn are:

Fix the Time to Which to Adjourn

Members use the motion fix the time to which to adjourn to set the time and place for the continuation of this meeting (an adjourned meeting). This motion is helpful if the bylaws do not allow for the calling of special meetings. For example, say an organization is revising or amending bylaws and needs a series of meetings to do so. The organization's bylaws either do not allow for special meetings or state that members can amend bylaws only at the annual meeting. At their meeting, the members can move to fix the time to which to adjourn in order to set another meeting for continuing their work with the bylaws. This process can go on at each meeting until all the bylaws are proposed and voted on.

Strategies for countering motions to fix the time to which to adjourn are:


The preceding discussions of counteractions have mentioned several incidental motions: point of order, parliamentary inquiry, and point of information. One motion not mentioned as a strategy is appeal from the decision of the chair.

Members need to realize that anytime the chair makes a ruling, a member can appeal the ruling. The purpose of an appeal is to let the assembly decide. Presiding officers do make mistakes, and the assembly has the right and obligation to correct them. Correcting a mistake in the meeting procedures may even determine how the assembly decides an issue.

Another helpful incidental motion is the motion to withdraw. Members should use this action only when it is apparent that the motion being discussed is poorly worded or that something has changed so that the motion is not relevant anymore.

A situation that assemblies need to be aware of, however, is one occurring when a member gets mad because "his" or "her" motion is being amended, and the member is unhappy and wants to withdraw it. If members are not informed, they may allow the motion to be withdrawn. If you want the motion to continue to be discussed and voted on, you can object to its withdrawal. This way the presiding officer has to take the vote on the motion to withdraw.


Rarely is it ever too late to revisit an issue or for the assembly to change its mind after it takes a vote. This section discusses the motions that enable the assembly to do so.

Reconsider the Vote

Reconsider the vote is an important motion to use when the assembly has already adopted a motion but new information comes to light during the meeting. By reconsidering the vote on a motion, members can change their minds about what they have adopted, or at least consider it again by taking into account the new information. To prevent a misuse of this motion, only a member who voted on the prevailing side can move to reconsider.

If a member did not vote on the prevailing side but wants the motion to be reconsidered, he or she can rise when no business is pending and briefly state reasons for reconsidering the motion. If a member who voted on the prevailing side agrees with the reasons, perhaps he or she will then make the motion. While business is pending, a member can request permission to state his or her reasons for reconsideration. Another tactic a member can use is to make the motion to recess. During the recess the member can approach members who voted on the prevailing side and try to convince one of them to make the motion to reconsider.

For example, in one organization, a bylaw amendment was defeated. A member who did not vote on the prevailing side wanted it reconsidered. A recess was taken, and the member was able to convince another member who had voted no (the prevailing side) to make the motion to reconsider. The members voted to reconsider the vote. The member gave persuasive reasons why the amendment should be adopted, and it was.

An important point to remember is that members must make the motion to reconsider on the same day that the motion it is reconsidering was adopted, unless the organization has adopted rules to the contrary. City and county government officials frequently misuse this motion, believing that they can reconsider a vote on a motion a month later. In such cases, if the action is adopted, it must be rescinded. If the motion was defeated, the motion can be renewed; that is, presented again. However, city and county governments may have statutes or laws concerning the presentation of business - the approval of building permits, zoning, and other public issues, for example. Government bodies need to check with their attorneys about such laws and proceed carefully concerning these parliamentary rules. Some government organizations have adopted rules of order that allow members to reconsider the vote on a motion at the next meeting.


Should a member want to rescind an action, the key strategy is to give previous notice. By giving previous notice, either in the call to the meeting or at the previous meeting, only a majority vote is needed to rescind an action. If a member does not give previous notice, rescinding requires either a two-thirds vote or a majority of the entire membership. Members need to be alert to situations where members move to rescind an action without giving previous notice and the vote is then approved only by a majority. This action violates the principle of protecting the rights of the absent members. Members must also be aware of the rules regarding rescinding the motion. (See "Rescind and Amend Something Previously Adopted" in Chapter 10.)


Many members believe that after they adopt a motion or after a motion is defeated, no one can do anything about it.

A common misconception is that once a motion is defeated at a meeting, members can't bring it up again. People leave the meeting upset because they think they are helpless. The rule is that members can't bring up a motion again at the same meeting unless the vote on the motion is reconsidered. However, a motion that is defeated can be brought up again later in the meeting if changed by time or circumstances, at the next meeting, or at later meetings. It is known to happen that if a persistent person keeps bringing up a motion at every meeting, it ultimately gets adopted.

If a motion is adopted and the members change their minds afterward, they can rescind or amend the action; or, during the same meeting, they can reconsider the vote.

If an unrepresentative temporary majority at a meeting ramrods something through, two members can stop the action by moving to reconsider and enter on the minutes.

Reconsider and Enter on the Minutes

Reconsider and enter on the minutes is an unusual form of the motion to reconsider. By making this motion and seconding it, two members can stop action on an adopted motion.

The same rules apply to this motion that apply to the motion to reconsider. The maker of the motion must have voted on the prevailing side. The only purpose of this motion is to prevent an unrepresentative temporary majority in attendance at a meeting from taking advantage of its position and adopting a motion that a majority of the membership would normally oppose.

For example, say that a small group has been trying at each meeting to get the organization to buy a new stove for the clubhouse. The motion has been defeated at every meeting at which it has been presented. However, at this particular monthly meeting, many of the members can't attend, but a quorum is present. The majority of those present are those who want to buy a new stove. They see this as the only opportunity to adopt this motion, and they succeed.

To stop the action, a member who is opposed to buying the stove needs to vote on the prevailing side - with those who voted yes. (This may seem like an unusual thing to do, but only a member who has voted on the prevailing side may make the motion to reconsider.) Immediately after the vote is announced, this member should make the motion to reconsider and enter on the minutes. It needs a second. This act suspends all action on the motion until the next meeting. The absent members must be notified of the proposed action. To reconsider and enter on the minutes can't be called up on the same day, but members can bring it up on the next day or another day as long as the time between meetings is within a quarterly time interval.

This motion is sometimes subject to abuse. It is possible for two members to hold up a legitimate action. The strategy for countering this motion is:

There are two conditions under which reconsider and enter on the minutes is not in order:

In such cases, a member should raise a point of order if the chair does not rule the motion out of order.

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