Reconsider, Rescind, or Amend previous decision
Updated October 3, 2023
Some years ago, I had a dramatic exposure to the motion “to Reconsider.” At a 2-day meeting of our professional society board, one member (I’ll call him “Alex”) proposed that our society spend $4000 on radio spots in Washington, DC. He felt that we needed to develop a public relations strategy, and that this would be a great entry into the market. The motion passed.
At the board dinner that evening, people who knew something about PR complained that this would be a waste of money, since it was not “targeted marketing.” Alex, however, argued that not only was it a great move, in fact, we should increase the amount.
The next morning, Alex asked how we could add more money to the PR effort. I suggested that he move to “Reconsider” the motion. The board agreed to reconsider, and we continued our discussion. During the discussion, Alex moved to amend the motion by increasing the amount to $8000, and the amendment passed. But when it came time to vote, the amended motion failed. In other words, Alex had gone “double or nothing,” and lost everything.
On the plane flight home, I started digging into Robert’s Rules of Order to better understand what had happened. I realized that if I had suggested that Alex move to “Amend Something Previously Adopted,” he would have been able to propose amending the amount to $8000. If that amendment had failed, however, he still would have kept the $4000 that was originally approved.
If you’re wondering about the people who voted to increase the amount, but then voted against the motion as amended, all I can say is that people are fickle! Maybe the board members were swept up in Alex’s enthusiasm, so they voted to increase, but in the end, decided they couldn’t swallow the larger sum. Voting one way on an amendment does not require you to vote a certain way on the motion once amended.
That incident made me decide I really had to learn more about parliamentary procedure, which in turn led to my studying Robert’s Rules, which in turn led to the idea of “Jurassic Parliament.” So I’m grateful to Alex for starting me on this path!
Let’s review how you can rethink or change your mind.
If the decision was positive and the motion passed
If your body approved a motion, there are three ways you can change your mind.
AMEND SOMETHING PREVIOUSLY ADOPTED
The easiest way to change your mind is to “Amend Something Previously Adopted.” A member proposes “to amend Motion X by the amendment Y.” This requires the standard steps to process a motion. (Read our articles Processing motions in Robert’s Rules and Amendment in Robert’s Rules.) There are three ways that this motion can pass:
- With a two-thirds vote.
- With previous (advance) notice and a majority vote.
- With a majority of the entire body.
One interesting point is that in a small board (up to about 12 people), it may be easier to obtain a “majority of the entire body” than to obtain a two-thirds vote. Learn more in our article Counting a vote wrong is dangerous.
Read more about “Amend Something Previously Adopted” in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, Section 35.
The next way to change a decision is to “Rescind” the motion. When you do this, the motion is revoked or canceled.
The motion to “Rescind” requires one of the same three methods described above in “Amend Something Previously Adopted.”
Note that you cannot rescind a motion when something has been done, as a result of the vote on the main motion, that it is impossible to undo. I had an inquiry from a clerk about a decision taken at the previous week’s meeting. The vouchers had been approved and the checks cut, but a councilmember had a question about one of the bills.
From a parliamentary perspective, it was not possible to “Rescind” the motion approving the checks. Some other action was called for. Perhaps the body could move to put a stop on the check, or to appoint a committee to investigate the bill. If you’re in this situation, if contract has been signed, for example, speak with your attorney.
Read more about “Rescind” in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, Section 35.
Your third option is to “Reconsider” the motion. The British don’t like this—they call it “the American motion.” This motion has two steps:
- A member moves to reconsider.
- If the body agrees, the previous decision is canceled, and the body takes up the matter where it was just before the vote was taken.
I like to think of this as the “Groundhog Day” motion. There we are with Bill Murray at 6:17 am, starting over again, at the point of discussion reached just before the vote.
The purpose of reconsidering a vote is to permit correction of hasty, ill-advised, or erroneous action, or to take into account added information or a changed situation that has developed since the taking of the vote.
Note that a member must have voted “with the prevailing side” in order to move reconsideration. This means that if the motion passed, the member voted for it. If the motion failed, the member voted against it. If the vote was tied, so that it failed, the member voted against it. The reason for this requirement is obvious: to prevent a disgruntled minority from bringing something up over and over again.
If the original motion was debatable, then the motion to reconsider, and the motion itself, can be debated. If the original motion could not be debated, then the motion to reconsider cannot be debated. I learned this rule at a convention in Washington DC, when the body “moved the previous question,” that is, decided by a two-thirds vote to stop debate and vote immediately. (This motion is often referred to as “call the question” and cannot be debated.) A member moved to reconsider on the grounds of new information, and the body agreed to reconsider the motion. But they couldn’t DISCUSS whether they should reconsider or not.
According to Robert’s Rules of Order, the motion “to Reconsider” can be made ONLY on the same day or the next day, if a meeting continues to a second day. However, sometimes public bodies have rules of procedure allowing someone to move reconsideration at the next business meeting. Your own rules of procedure have more authority than Robert’s Rules.
As with Rescind, you cannot reconsider a motion when something has been done, as a result of the vote on the main motion, that it is impossible to undo.
Read more about “Reconsider” in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, Section 37.
If the decision was negative and the motion failed
If your body defeated a motion, you have two options:
RECONSIDER – as above
Robert’s Rules encourages bodies to make up their mind and stick to it—during the meeting! The idea is to keep meetings efficient, and prevent endless backtracking. However, if a motion is defeated, a member has the right to RENEW it, that is, to bring it up at a future meeting.
You can read about renewal in our article, Renewing a defeated motion at a future meeting, and in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, Section 38:1.
General thoughts on Reconsider etc.
I hope this article brings clarity to a murky subject. Part of the problem is that in ordinary speech, we use “reconsider” differently from the specific motion described in Robert’s Rules. It will help your group if you master the three different ways that a body can change its mind during a meeting:
- Amend Something Previously Adopted
And while it’s technically feasible to “renew” motions, I encourage you to refrain from doing so. It’s not a good use of your group’s time to go round and round the mulberry bush, hashing out things that were already decided once.
Respect for the majority decision is a key principle of Robert’s Rules. Observing it will help your group function well, and earn you the respect of your colleagues. As Cornell Clayton of Washington State University says, “The willingness to engage in honest debate and lose, on issues you care deeply about, reaffirms your commitment to common citizenship.”
We have a blog entry covering some of these same concepts, oriented specifically towards local governments, at this link:
Changing Course: Using Robert’s Rules to alter a prior action.