Hopeless in Houston without a quorum

During my time as executive director for a national association of interpreters, the annual meeting in Houston stands out as a low moment. We had retained a professional parliamentarian, but she was over 70 years old and not up to dealing with our frisky members. Accusations were made that the board had mishandled $25,000 and that your humble servant had insulted one of the members. And then we lost our quorum.

What is a quorum anyway and why does it matter? The “quorum” is the minimum number of voting members who must be present for business to be done. The size of the quorum is usually set in the bylaws. And if you lose a quorum, you can’t continue to act. In our case, this meant that we weren’t going to be able to hold our annual elections. Not a happy moment.

No quorum? No problem!

Disgusted person

© Flickr.com

One of the members brightly offered this suggestion: “It’s not a problem. Here in Texas, we just adjourn the meeting and then reconvene, and HOWEVER MANY MEMBERS ARE PRESENT is the quorum.” My jaw dropped. How can you protect the rights of the absent by papering things over this way? Our parliamentarian, even though elderly, was still sharp enough to advise that this approach wouldn’t work.

We took a brief recess and sent people out to drag members back from the hallways and the bar. Eventually we garnered enough members to be able to hold our elections. The situation did not turn out to be hopeless. Had we proceeded along the lines suggested, we would have taken an illegal action and our election would not have been valid.

Requirement for a quorum is not just a nuisance

In the modern day, people sometimes treat parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order as nuisances. Action-oriented individuals can glide over the requirements and try to “make it happen.” But voting and quorum requirements are not mere technicalities. They are fundamental to how you do your business.

Related posts on quorum

What is a quorum and why does it matter?

When is a quorum not enough?

Counting the vote wrong is dangerous

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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. Liz Heath on October 25, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Ann, I have heard a number of times over the years that, once a quorum is established, it is maintained even though the person who makes the quorum leaves the meeting. Sadly I have repeated this to others. Now I read the above and fear that was just an “old wives’ tale”.

    • Ann Macfarlane on October 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Liz, I’m sorry to say that it is an “old wives’ tale.” Widespread, unfortunately. There is one exception: if state law or the bylaws allow for this condition, then it would be OK. But to me, that defeats the whole purpose of the quorum requirement, namely, to protect the rights of minorities.