Don’t take a two-thirds vote by voice

When you have to take a two-thirds vote, take it by a show of hands. Don’t use voice, as in this video from Amherst, Massachusetts!

Robert’s Rules of Order requires a two-thirds vote when members’ rights are limited or extended. The most common instance of a two-thirds vote is when a group uses the motion “Previous Question,” more commonly known as “calling the question.” This is a motion to stop debate and vote immediately. It requires a second, cannot be debated or amended, and takes a two-thirds vote.

In this snippet of video published by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, you see the moderator taking the vote, listening to “aye” and “no,” and then announcing “moderator hears two-thirds.” He sounds a bit defiant as he says this.

It isn’t clear to me, listening to the voices, that this was in fact a two-thirds vote. The moderator should have called for a show of hands, or a rising vote (asking people to stand).

Why does this matter? It is critical for the chair of a meeting to serve as an impartial, fair and balanced facilitator for the meeting. Making it clear that you are committed to clarity on all votes taken is an essential duty. And you just can’t gauge voice results to the right degree of precision.

Note that there is a horrible and undemocratic belief abroad in the land that says that if someone “calls the question,” the group must stop debate and vote immediately, right on the spot. Read our blog post  “How do you call the question in Robert’s Rules?” to get the real skinny on what to do.

Common motions that require a two-thirds vote are:

  • To limit or extend the limits of debate
  • To call the question (Previous Question)
  • To suspend the rules

Note that none of these motions can be debated, thank goodness!  Do you use any of these motions often? Let us know!

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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.