Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

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Business Meeting: Oddball Motions

In my previous message, I wrote about the relatively well-behaved Privileged and Subsidiary Motions. Those motions have rank among themselves and follow a well-defined order of precedence. The rest of the procedural motions I will discuss here have no such order. Each is a law unto itself, and you have to look them up individually to figure out when they take precedence and to which motions (if any) they yield. I'm not even going to try to list that bit, since I have to look them all up too. Instead, I'm going to talk about how they are used (or not used) at WSFS.

As before, (D) means debatable and (2/3) means a 2/3 supermajority is required. Do keep in mind that those are general notes, and sometimes are different in specific circumstances.

Incidental Motions
Objection to Consideration
Parliamentary Inquiry
Point of Order
Suspend the Rules (2/3)
Appeal Ruling of Chair (D)
Consideration by Paragraph
Division of the Assembly
Divide Question
Create a Blank

“Bring Back” Motions
Reconsider (D)
Take From the Table

These aren't numbered because they have no rank among themselves. My listing is somewhat arbitrary.

The Incidental Motions arise out of pending business, and are, as their name suggests, incidental to that pending business. They generally take precedence over the business to which they are incidental, but there are complex rules regarding how they interact with each other, as I mentioned above.

Objection to Consideration is a fairly obscure motion in Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised that is the darling of the WSFS intelligentsia, who use it quite freely and often much to the surprise of people who haven't attended meetings regularly and are unfamiliar with the practice. OTC is a motion that can only be made immediately after a main motion has been stated by the chair and before debate has begun. (The precise boundary is slightly more complicated.) A member may interrupt business to lodge an OTC; that is, even if the chair hasn't called on you, but instead called on (say) the person who made the original motion in the first place, you may jump to your feet and call out "Objection to Consideration!" You'll show more decorum if you rise and say, "Mr. Chairman!" and, when the Chair asks, "For what purpose does the member rise?" reply, "I Object to the Consideration of the Question."

OTC doesn't require a second, and is undebatable. The Chair will immediately proceed to put the question, "Shall the main motion be considered?" It takes a 2/3 vote against consideration to kill a new main motion without debate. This is a powerful barrier, but you might be surprised how many proposals get shot down by OTC. In fact, I'd say a majority of new proposals submitted at most WSFS Business Meetings in recent years have at least had to survive an OTC. I expect that people who come up with proposals that are shot out of the water by OTC are usually very unhappy that they didn't even have a chance to make their initial argument, but those are the rules. Majorities -- especially 2/3 supermajorities -- have rights, too, and one of those rights is to not have their time wasted listening to people debate proposals that are obviously hopeless.

Hint: If you don't want your proposal killed by OTC, spend time before Worldcon drumming up support for it among Business Meeting regulars. Try to convince people that your proposal is worth of at least a shot at debate. And you might want to try bringing more than just a single person you talked into seconding all of your motions for you, or else everything you try to do will lose on a vote of everyone-to-two. (I'm not joking; in 1993, a set of four absolutely dreadful proposals were killed by a very quick set of OTCs in less than five minutes. I think it may have been Mike Glyer who reported on it, calling it akin to skeet shooting: "Pull!")

A Parliamentary Inquiry is what you make when you want to do something but don't know how to do it technically, or want the Chair's advice as to the parliamentary situation. The Chair may end up telling you, "What you want to do is not allowed right now," or he'll say, "You appear to be moving to do...." or otherwise try and help you. It sounds like a joke when we say, "We're the Business Meeting Staff, and we're here to help you," but that's really one of our jobs.

However, it's usually not a Parliamentary Inquiry when you ask a question about a pending proposal, especially when you do it in such a way that sounds like debate. You can ask someone speaking about a proposal if s/he will yield for a question, but that speaker is not required to yield, and indeed may not want to do so, because both your question and his/her answer come out of his/her debate time, and debate time is quite limited at WSFS.

It may be a Parliamentary Inquiry if you ask the Chair to express an opinion as to the meaning of a given proposal. This is consistent with WSFS practice.

You may not use a Parliamentary Inquiry (or the related "Request or Inquiry" or the powerful Question of Privilege) to try and interrupt a speaker and correct his/her facts. I know it pains many people to hear this, but debate need not be factual. If you want to correct mistakes that one speaker has made, you have to use your own debate time to do it.

Although the Chair is supposed to enforce the rules, any member who observes a breech of the rules may call it to the Chair's attention by raising a Point of Order. This can interrupt a speaker or any other business out of which the point might arise. When a member raises a Point of Order, the Chair must rule upon it. Should the Chair sustain the point, then the Chair should take the appropriate corrective action. Should the Chair rule the Point "not well taken," then business resumes where it left off, except that anyone who disagrees with the Chair, if s/he thinks a majority of the members will overturn the Chair's ruling, can Appeal the ruling (see below).

Parliamentary procedure being the way it is, you could probably spend all day raising frivolous points of order, but you'll make no friends for doing so if nobody is really being hurt by minor breeches. As Chair, I sometimes allow minor things to slide if I don't think any substantive harm is being done. Rules are a servant and not a master, after all. For example, imagine that a motion is made but not seconded and the Chair doesn't notice it. People begin to debate the motion. Then some bright spark raises a Point of Order that the motion hadn't been seconded. A sensible Chair who understands the spirit as well as the letter of the rules say that one is not well taken, because the people who debated the motion implied a second, even if they debated against the motion. (That's because you don't necessarily have to favor a motion to second it; you may want it made so that the meeting will vote it down and go on record as having done so.)

Still, when I'm on the floor instead of the head table, I'll raise my share of points of order, some of which probably look frivolous to other people. It's sometimes difficult to keep perspective about these things.

Suspend the Rules allows for the temporary suspension of parliamentary rules (including the Standing Rules) interfering with a given action. The Constitution may not be suspended unless it is a section that provides for its own suspension. (There is one such section, 5.1.3, having to do with the rule-making process itself.) It is not unusual for this to be done by unanimous consent if the nominally prohibited action is not controversial. Also, we sometime manage to tie ourselves in a parliamentary knot, and Suspend the Rules is usually the only way out of it.

You can Appeal the Ruling of the Chair if you disagree with the Chair's ruling on a given point. In most cases, a majority against the Chair will overturn his ruling. Note that, unlike the usual case where a tie vote loses, a tie vote on an Appeal sustains the Chair. Also, appeals are sometimes debatable (if they arise out of a debatable question, such as the legality of a proposed amendment), and if so, the Chair gets to speak both first (to explain his ruling) and last (to sum up) while everyone else only gets to speak once. All of these things are unusual and apply only to this motion. (Normally the Chair doesn't debate motions; Appeal is different because he has to explain his reasoning.)

Overruling a Chair's ruling is not the same as a "no confidence" vote such as some legislative bodies have. The Chair is under no obligation to step down if his ruling is overturned, although of course he has to follow the will of the assembly. WSFS has never removed a presiding officer from the Chair, although I think that the 1991 meeting in Chicago was probably within thirty seconds of attempting to do so at one point.

Consideration by Paragraph (Seriatim) doesn't come up much at WSFS. It's only meaningful when dealing with very long proposals. As I recall, the last time we used it was about ten years ago when we were working our way through the Standing Rules Revision.

A Division of the Assembly is generally considered to be a request to take a counted vote, although the rule is actually more complicated than that. WSFS rules require that the vote be counted if as few as ten percent of the attendees request it.

Although "ayes and noes" are traditional, most recent presiding officers -- including me -- take uncounted votes by a show of hands. I don't like ayes and noes because people try to out-shout each other, whereas an uncounted show of hands is relatively easy to police, smart-alecks raising both their hands notwithstanding. If such an uncounted show of hands is indecisive, or if 10% of the attendees request it, we count the vote, usually by the "serpentine" method. This works by first asking those people in favor of the proposal to stand up (we of course accommodate people whose physical condition keeps them from doing so). Then we start at the end of the first row, where the first person standing says "one" and sits down. The next standing person in that row says "two" and sits down, and we progress down the row until we reach the end, then we move to the next row at that end and move back the other direction, people counting off and sitting down as we go. When we get to the back of the room and the last person standing has voted and sat, we then repeat the process with the people voting against the proposal. While this may sound cumbersome -- and some people have complained about it -- it's actually a much better and faster method than a counted show of hands in an assembly as large as WSFS, where we've had 200 people or more at a meeting. I've helped count votes by show of hands, and it's rare that two tellers will get the same vote, and meanwhile you have a hundred or more people whose arms are losing circulation while they wait for you to finish. Serpentine votes rarely need to be redone, and are usually very clear and obvious to all present.

To Divide the Question is not the same thing as Dividing the Assembly. Some motions consist of pieces that can be adopted or rejected independently of one another. If this is so, the meeting can vote to divide the proposal into pieces, each of which will be considered separately. You can't do this if the pieces are not logically severable.

By the way, if you submit a long list of unrelated proposals as a single motion, a single member may demand that the proposals be divided. It's only when proposals are related -- say, for instance, a proposal to strike out the three Fan Hugo Award categories -- that it takes a majority to separate them from each other.

Create a Blank is a special case of Amend, and allows you to deal with situations when there are many possible ways of filling a value in a proposal without having to go through the process of Amend serially. An important thing about blank-filling is that the first item to get a majority fills the blank, even if you haven't voted on the subsequent items, so if you're in favor of a later entry on the list, you need to vote against each of the earlier ones.

Bring Back Motions are a class that don't fit in very well with any of the other classes. They are motions that restore to the meeting motions that the meeting had otherwise disposed of by one means or another.

Reconsider allows someone who voted on the prevailing side of a question to ask that the meeting bring it back before the meeting. It requires a majority, and if it passes, the motion being reconsidered is back on the floor in whatever the last state it was when it was previously dealt with.

For example, if the meeting rejects a motion, then later on one of the people who voted against it changes his/her mind, that person can move to reconsider it, and if the motion to reconsider passes, the motion is now back before the meeting.

Another example: If the meeting passes a constitutional amendment, then later on one of the people who voted in favor of it changes his/her mind, that person can move to reconsider it, and if the motion to reconsider passes, the motion is back before the meeting.

As you can see, it (generally) does not matter whether the motion being reconsidered was passed or rejected; as long as someone who voted on the prevailing side (not always a majority, since some motions required supermajorities and thus the "prevailing side" might be less than a majority but more than one-third) moves to Reconsider, it's valid.

The actual detailed rules on Reconsider are very complicated, and this only gives you the roughest idea of what the motion does. You have to look up the specific case of Reconsider applicable to your specific conditions.

By comparison, Take From the Table is pretty straightforward. Any motion that has been Laid on the Table can be Taken from the Table. Although Lay on the Table takes a 2/3 vote, it only takes a majority to bring it back.

Both Reconsider and Take From the Table are generally in order only when no business is pending.

That broadly covers most of the procedural rules we're likely to encounter at a WSFS meeting. Again, a relatively short summary like this won't cover every possibility, but after you've read this, you probably know more about meeting procedure than the people around you, and you will be less likely to be mystified at the Business Meeting.

Edit, 23:00: A point of order was raised against the originally-posted article, noting that I'd left out the section on Point of Order. The Chair ruled the point well-taken and corrected the oversight.

Edit, 8/12 8:45: Fixed some typos and clarified a couple of sentences.
Tags: wsfs
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