How to call the vote at meetings

after you call the vote

© Can Stock Photo

Updated November 19, 2022

It’s interesting to see the many different ways people can call the vote at meetings. This is what Jurassic Parliament recommends:

  • Call for those in favor:  All those in favor, say “aye.” [pause]
  • Call for those against:  All those opposed, say “no.” [pause]
  • Announce the result:  The “ayes” have it, the motion passes, and the warrants are approved (or whatever the motion was), OR, The “noes” have it and the motion fails.

If you are voting by show of hands, the same pattern applies:

  • Call for those in favor:  All those in favor, raise your right hand and keep it up.  [pause]
  • Call for those against:  All those opposed, raise your right hand and keep it up. [pause]
  • Announce the result:  The “ayes” have it, the motion passes, and the warrants are approved (or whatever the motion was), OR The “noes” have it and the motion fails.

Announcement after you call the vote

The announcement of the result has three parts:

  • Which side was in the majority
  • Whether the motion passes or fails
  • What will happen as a result.

The reason for this three-part approach is that sometimes a motion can have a majority in favor, but still fail.

For instance, in Washington State the law for nonprofit boards requires that a MAJORITY OF THE BOARD MEMBERS PRESENT vote in favor for a motion to pass (see RCW 24.03.110). As an example, if ten board members are present, and five vote in favor with three against and two abstaining, the motion has a majority in favor (“The ayes have it”), but it fails nevertheless, because five is not a majority of ten.

Robert’s Rules says not to call for abstentions

Note that Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, says that “to abstain” is to do nothing. Robert says that the chair should not call for abstentions, and that abstentions are not counted. This is fine for private nonprofit boards. However, on local government bodies, it is customary to call for abstentions (if they are allowed) and to record them. Read more about abstentions in our blog post, “If you abstain from a vote, what happens?

How NOT to call the vote

There are some things a chair must NOT do when it comes time to call the vote.

Example 1:  All those in favor, please say “aye.” All those opposed, same sign.

This old-timey usage is confusing and should NEVER be used, since it can befuddle everyone.

Example 2:  All those in favor, please say “aye.” Well, it’s unanimous!

It is an ancient principle of parliamentary procedure that the chair MUST call for the negative vote. This goes back to 1604! Even if the chair believes that she hears everyone’s voice in favor, she still must say, “all those opposed, please say no.”

The only exception is a “courtesy resolution” thanking someone for their service or expressing general approval. But even then, if a member requests the negative vote, it must be taken.

Example 3: All those in favor, please say “aye.” Opposed?

It’s important to give those who may be opposed their full opportunity to speak. By shortening the “call for the negative” to “opposed?” the chair subtly implies that the opposition is not significant. Take the time to use the full phrase: “All those opposed, please say no.”


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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.


  1. chester claw on May 31, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Is it proper to have the Chairperson to said those that are abstaining, after asking for the vote of those in favor and those oppose. Isn’t it the responsible of a member to state he/she is abstaining because……, please advisee.

    • Ann Macfarlane on May 31, 2016 at 9:42 am

      Dear Chester,

      For private bodies like a board of directors of a nonprofit charity, Robert’s Rules of Order says not to call for abstentions. Since to abstain is to do nothing, there is nothing to count or record. Under Robert’s Rules of order there is no requirement to say WHY you are abstaining.

      When a roll call vote is taken, of course the person abstaining will say “abstain.” If a member is abstaining because of a conflict of interest, that should definitely be noted. And public bodies may have additional requirements here. You will be governed by the regulations that apply and your attorney’s advice.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for writing!

      • Toby Nixon on May 31, 2016 at 3:02 pm

        In our council, if someone has a conflict (e.g., they’re on the board of a non-profit, and we’re voting on whether to make a grant to that organization), rather than have them simply abstain from the vote, we have them leave the room for that entire business item and record that in the minutes. That way not only do they not vote on the item, they also don’t influence the discussion. Do you agree that’s correct?

        • Ann Macfarlane on June 1, 2016 at 1:58 pm

          Dear Toby,
          As I understand the situation in Washington State, this is correct for city councils and other public bodies. The person in your example would have a “remote interest,” and that person must not influence or attempt to influence the decision (see this MRSC web page).

          For private nonprofit boards, the situation is not as clear-cut. Some conflict of interest policies require the person to absent himself from the discussion, and some do not. Curiously, Robert’s Rules of Order is rather broad on this issue. It says that a person should abstain from voting when there is a direct personal or pecuniary conflict of interest, but cannot be compelled to do so (RONR 11th edition, p. 407). Of course a board can adopt a policy which DOES require someone in this situation to abstain from discussion and voting.

          Thanks for writing!

  2. on June 2, 2016 at 1:11 am

    My own pet peeve is “All in favor say yes.” It’s becoming the norm in an organization to which I belong. Am I being a carmugeon to mention to chair (in private)?

    • Ann Macfarlane on June 2, 2016 at 9:30 am

      I think it’s fine to mention it privately to the chair! I don’t suppose there’s any reason in principle why one couldn’t ask for “yes,” but following the usual practice is desirable, in my view. It adds the weight of custom to the voting and helps people give their vote the seriousness it deserves. Thanks for writing!

  3. Michelle on February 28, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Is there a hard and fast rule about calling for the vote by names or simply asking for voice vote? Council was in the middle of voting on amendments, amendment 1 & 2 were voted on by roll call and amendment 3 was a voice vote. Thank you.

    • Ann Macfarlane on February 28, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Michelle, there is no hard and fast rule. Washington State law says that any member can request a roll call vote, which must be taken. So voice is fine, and roll call vote is fine if requested, or if necessary to clear up confusion.

      • Michelle on February 28, 2017 at 10:09 am

        Thank you!

  4. Anton Ramcharan on April 3, 2017 at 6:02 am

    In a non-profit organisation the bylaws state a motion is carried based on a majority of “members present and voting”. Would it make a difference for determining whether a motion is carries if the bylaws state a motion is carried based on the majority of “members present”. the question is raised where the majority of members have abstained..

    • Ann Macfarlane on April 3, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Anton, yes, it would make a difference. If you have 50 members present and 30 abstain, with 20 voting in favor, and the requirement is a majority of members present and voting, the motion would pass. 20 is a majority (more than half) of 20.
      In the same situation, if the bylaws require “a majority of members present,” the motion would need 26 votes in favor to pass, that is, a majority (more than half) of the 50 members present. Since 20 is not a majority of members present, the motion would fail.
      Does this help?

  5. Anton Ramcharan on April 3, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Thank you. It appears a small difference in wording but can yield very different results.

    • Ann Macfarlane on April 3, 2017 at 11:30 am

      Absolutely! And it often trips us up, because it seems so tiny.

  6. Arvenia Morris on May 3, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Ok. So if your organizational contract says that a QUORUM is “a majority of the number of the voting Directors then in office and present at a meeting in person and representing a majority of the constituent Municipalities shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business; …

    VOTING: …the act of a majority of the Directors voting at a meeting at which a quorum is present shall be the act of the Board of Directors.

    Voting Directors currently in office (11) – Voting Directors at the meeting (8) – Voting Directors voting YES (5)
    (3 voting Directors abstained).
    5 is the majority of the 8 voting directors in attendance. The motion would carry. Do you agree?

    • Ann Macfarlane on May 3, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Under the circumstances you describe the motion would carry, provided that there is no higher authority with any other provision. Ann

  7. V Richards on June 16, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Currently we are not recording the vote but should a member make a request as to who voted how, is a proposal necessary or how does this happen?

    • Ann Macfarlane on June 18, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Vince, in some cases there is a state-level law or regulation that requires this. So you will want to check out your state’s regulations for your type of organization.

      If there is no such requirement, then a member who wishes for the details to be noted down would make a motion to hold a roll-call vote. This takes a majority vote to pass. The details on roll-call voting are in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised 11th edition, pages 420-423.

      Hope this helps!


  8. p. tawney on June 26, 2017 at 11:23 am

    If during the course of a board meeting, a board member makes a motion and it is seconded, does the President/Chair have to call for a vote? Can the President/Chair simple refuse to call for a vote?

    • Ann Macfarlane on June 27, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      It is a fundamental principle of Robert’s Rules of Order that members have the right to make motions proposing action, and that they are entitled to discussion and vote. The President/Chair MAY NOT refuse to call for a vote.