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Parliamentary Procedure

by Bettye Wadsworth

Parliamentary rule enables an organization to do the things it was organized to do. It is a means by which a group of people make a decision and a plan of work in an efficient manner without confusion. The use of parliamentary procedure assures order and a hastening of business. The application of parliamentary law assures that the will of the majority is carried out and the rights and privileges of the minority are protected.

Without some knowledge of proper rules and procedure, members of an organization cannot conduct its business effectively. Each member of an organization, as well as the officers, should have a working knowledge of parliamentary rules. These rules allow for members to safeguard individual interests.

Knowledge of parliamentary procedure will give you confidence and poise. It enables each member and officer to perform his or her duties. The proper use of parliamentary procedure results in justice to all.

Parliamentary procedure has a long history. It originated in the early English Parliaments, came to America with the first settlers, and became uniform in 1876 when Henry M. Robert published his manual on parliamentary law. Today Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised is the basic handbook of operation for most clubs, organizations, and other groups.

Remember that the application of parliamentary rules, like other rules, must be applied with common sense.


Types of Meetings

All organizations conduct their affairs through meetings. Regardless of format, meetings are one of the following types:

  1. Regular Meetings - meetings for which the time and place are usually prescribed in the bylaws or standing rules.
  2. Special Meetings - meetings called for transaction of a special item of business. Procedure usually defined in bylaws.
  3. Annual Meetings - meetings scheduled for hearing reports, election of officers, amending rules, and such other business as may need to come before the members at the close of the organization's year.

Parliamentary Tips

The parliamentarian is advisor ONLY to the individual presiding at the meeting.

If the bylaws of the organization state that the parliamentarian has final ruling in a matter, the parliamentarian can overrule at any point.

Order of Business and Agenda

An Order of Business is essential to all meetings in which business of the organization is transacted. It assists the presiding officer and members in proceeding in an orderly way, maintains continuity in the transaction of business, and establishes priorities for items of business.

Orders of Business should not be included in the bylaws since the bylaws may never be suspended. The Order of Business should be spelled out in the standing rules or the parliamentary authority. It is recommended that every group adopt a parliamentary authority as a guide. Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised is the most widely accepted authority in both deliberative and legislative assemblies.

An Order of Business differs from an agenda. The basic components of both are given below:

Order of Business: The basic outline of the business proceedings.

  1. Call to order.
  2. Reading and approval of minutes.
  3. Reports of officers, boards, standing committees.
  4. Reports of special committees (committees appointed to exist until they have completed a specified task or have been discharged).
  5. Special orders (matters which demand special priority).
  6. Unfinished business (never referred to as "old" business), which deals with matters previously introduced but not completed.
  7. New business (to bring a new matter before the organization for discussion).

Agenda: A schedule of the order of business noting details.

    These details indicate items of business, reports, programs, appointments, resolutions and such other specific features as the presiding officer may need to ensure an orderly and courteous transition from item to item in the conduct of business. Careful preparation of an agenda requires familiarity with the rules of the organization, both local and parent, parliamentary practice, minutes of the previous meeting, a calendar of events and commitments, records of adopted policy, the roster of members, and names of officers and chairmen.

    In a large meeting or convention, it is important that the agenda be well planned and that each member of the entire session be timed accurately and spaced in efficient and attractive sequence.

Procedure for Order of Business

The following procedure for an order of business is suggested:

  1. Call to Order-Presiding officer raps the gavel once and announces, "The meeting will come to order."
  2. Opening Ceremonies (optional)
  3. Roll Call (Usually only necessary to establish a quorum and is optional)
  4. .Reading and Approval of the Minutes
    Chair: "The Secretary will read the minutes." Following the reading, the Chair will ask, "Are there any corrections to the minutes?" (Additions and omissions are corrections, therefore not used in this question.) If there are none, the Chair says,"The minutes stand approved as read." If there are corrections, they are usually made by general consent and the Chair says, "The minutes stand approved as corrected."
  5. Reports of Officers, Board and Committees
    Chair: "The Treasurer will now report." Following the report, the Chair will ask, "Are there any questions on the Treasurer's Report?" If there are no questions, the Chair says, "The report will be filed for audit." (A Treasurer's report is never adopted.) Officers who have reports will be called on in proper order. The presiding officer should know in advance who is prepared to report.
  6. The Board or Executive Committee may be empowered to transact business. The action taken is read by the Secretary for information as a Report of the Board. If the report carries a recommendation, action may be taken at the time of the report or under New Business.
  7. Standing Committees are usually called upon in the order in which they are listed. The Chair should know in advance who is prepared to report. If the report brings a recommendation, the reporting member may bring the recommendation for action at this point or under New Business.
  8. Special Committees are usually called on in the order in which they were appointed. If the report is given for information, no action is taken; if the report brings a recommendation, the reporting member may bring the recommendation at this point or under New Business.
  9. Unfinished Business is business postponed or referred by motion or left unfinished from the previous meeting, as recorded in the minutes. (Not referred to as "old business.")
  10. New Business may be introduced by the Chair or by any member. The Chair will ask, "Is there any new business?" At this time, there is an opportunity to bring new items of business by motion or resolution.
  11. Program (If there is a planned program, the schedule should be optional.)
  12. Announcements
  13. Adjournment - The Chair asks, "Is there any further business to come before the assembly?" If the Chair hears none, the Chair may declare the meeting adjourned; however, a motion may be made to adjourn the meeting, requiring a second to the motion and a majority vote. The meeting is not adjourned until the Chair declares it adjourned.


A motion is a proposal to bring a subject to a group for its consideration and action. Motions are not all the same. They fall within certain classes, and some take priority over others. The following explains these classes of motions:

Classes of Motions

  1. Main Motions: A main motion is a motion whose introduction brings before the assembly a question or business for consideration when no other business is pending. Only one main motion can be considered at a time, and no other main motion may be introduced until the first one is disposed of in some manner.
  2. Subsidiary Motions: Subsidiary motions assist the assembly in treating or disposing of a main motion. Since they relate to the question before the house, it is in order to propose a subsidiary motion when a main motion is still before the assembly. The vote on the subsidiary motion is taken before the action is taken on the main motion.
  3. Privileged Motions: Privileged motions do not relate to the pending business but deal with special matters of immediate and overriding importance. Privileged motions may interrupt debate before the assembly.
  4. Incidental Motions: Incidental motions are motions incidental to another motion pending or incidental to other business at hand, such as suspending the rules or closing nominations.
  5. Motions that Bring a Question Again before the Assembly: These motions bring a question that has already been considered by the assembly back before the assembly, as in the case of the motions to rescind or take from the table.

Making a Motion The following procedures are followed to make a motion:

  1. Member rises and addresses the Chair. "Mr./Madam President or Chair."
  2. Chair recognizes the member. (After the floor has been assigned to the member, he/she cannot be interrupted by member or chair, except by a point of order.)
  3. Member: "I move that _______________ (states motion).
  4. Second to motion (not necessary to stand). "I second the motion." If the motion comes as a recommendation from two or more members, the motion does not need a second.
  5. Chair states motion: "It has been moved by (name) and seconded that _________________."
  6. Discussion: If the motion is debatable, every member has the right to debate; the Chair refrains from debate while presiding. The Chair carefully determines the order in which members are recognized to speak, giving first opportunity to the proposer of the motion. Care should be given to assure that discussion is related to question.
  7. The Chair says, "If there is no further discussion, the motion is _________________ (restate motion)."
  8. Vote: The Chair says, "All those in favor of _______________ (the motion stated) say 'aye.' Those opposed say 'no.'"
  9. Result of the vote is stated by the Chair. "The motion is carried." or "The motion is lost."

Amending a Motion

To amend a motion is to alter or modify the wording of a motion that has already been made. (To change the wording of a pending motion.)

  1. Methods of Amending
    1. Insert
    2. Add (at the end)
    3. Strike out
    4. Strike out and insert (words only)
    5. Substitute (a paragraph)

      An amendment must be germane to the main motion; it must relate to the same subject matter. (There is no limit to the times a motion may be amended.)

  2. Types of Amendments
    1. Primary - an amendment that applies directly to the main motion.
    2. Secondary - an amendment that applies directly to the primary amendment only. No amendment beyond the above is in order, and only one of each may be made at one time. It is possible to have a motion, an amendment to the motion, and an amendment to the amendment before the assembly at one time. An amendment must be germane to the motion to be amended.

  3. Voting on Amendments
    1. Discussion and vote on secondary amendment.
    2. Discussion and vote on primary amendment as amended (if amendment carried).
    3. Discussion and vote on main motion as amended (if amendments carried).

Some Most Used Motions

Listed below are some of the most used motions and their purposes:

    Main Motion - a motion to bring a matter before the assembly for discussion and action.

    Amendments - primary and secondary amendments are to modify or change a motion.

    Postpone Indefinitely - to reject a motion or question pending without taking a direct vote. The effect is to "kill" the main motion.

    Refer to a Committee - to delay action; to give more time for consideration or study of matter.

    Postpone to a Definite Time - to delay action on a proposed question to a specified time.

    Limit or Extend Debate - to limit by decreasing the allotted time or to extend by increasing the allotted time.

    Call for the Previous Question - a motion to determine whether the assembly will cut off debate and vote at once on the pending question (requires two-thirds vote).

    Lay on the Table - a motion which enables the assembly to put aside a pending question temporarily; can be brought back by a motion to take from the table (not intended as a killing motion).

    Call for Orders of the Day - a request that the prescribed rules of order be followed.

    Questions of Privilege (Personal and General) - a motion requesting special privilege for an individual or the assembly.

    Recess - to dissolve an assembly temporarily.

    Adjourn - to close a meeting officially.

    Fix Time and Place to Which to Adjourn - to provide for another meeting (called "adjourned meeting") to continue business which was not completed in present session.

    Point of Order - to request enforcement of the rules of order.

    Appeal from the Decision of the Chair - to question a decision of the Chair; an effort to reverse the decision of the Chair on a point of order.

    Objection to Consideration - to suppress and prevent discussion of an undesirable or sensitive question (must be raised before debate begins).

    Withdraw - to remove a matter from consideration without a vote upon it. (May be made by the mover or by permission of assembly.)

    Take from the Table - to take up a matter which has been laid on the table.

    Reconsider - to consider or bring back a matter previously voted. Motion to reconsider must be made by voter on prevailing side and must be made on the same day or in same session.

    Rescind - to repeal or annul action previously taken. Requires majority vote with previous notice; two/thirds without notice.

    Ratify - to make legal action taken in an emergency.

Chart for Determining When Each Motion Is in Order

In the chart of motion in order of precedence, the privileged, subsidiary, incidental, and main motions are listed in order of rank. The motion at the top takes precedence over all the others, and each of the remaining motions takes precedence over all those below it. A main motion is in order only when no other motion is pending.

When one of the motions listed is immediately pending, then: (a) any other motion appearing above it in the list is in order, unless a condition stated opposite the other motion causes that motion to be out of order; and (b) motions listed below the given motion which are not already pending are out of order (except for the application of amend or the previous question to certain motions ranking above them).


Good leadership and informed membership are directly Related to the officers' knowledge and skillful use of parliamentary procedure and rules or order. The usage--extent and the diversity--depend on the particular organization. Since the quality and the effectiveness of an organized group is often determined by the proficiency of its leaders, choices of officers and other leaders must be made on the basis of the best qualifications for appropriate positions. The members and officers should be familiar with the functions of their offices. The officers' qualifications and duties are prescribed by the organization's bylaws.

The term PRESIDENT or CHAIR is a title given to the presiding officer unless a special title is chosen by the organization. The officers in line to serve in the absence of the PRESIDENT are VICE-PRESIDENTS or VICE-CHAIRS. The SECRETARY is the recording officer and fills other secretarial duties if there is no CORRESPONDING SECRETARY. The TREASURER is the custodian of the funds.

There may be additional officers specified in the bylaws, such as Director, Librarian, Historian, and Chaplain, with assigned special duties.

The PARLIAMENTARIAN is a consultant to the PRESIDENT or other members of the organization and should be appointed by the PRESIDENT.

Qualifications of Officers

  • President: Should be a good member and know the structure and purpose of the organization; have the ability to get along well with people; be able to preside with dignity; have a sense of humor.

    Vice-President: Should have most of the qualities of the President since the Vice- President acts in the absence of the President.

    Recording Secretary: Should be prompt and dependable, accurate in work, possess some skills in the use of words.

    Corresponding Secretary: Should be cordial and tactful and understand good principles of letter writing. (In the absence of a secretary, a secretary pro tem should be elected.)

    Treasurer: Should have an understanding of good business procedure, capacity for handling money, some bookkeeping skills and unquestioned honesty.

    Qualifications of the other officers depend on the purpose for which they exist, as defined by the organization and its rules.

Board of Directors

Many organizations have a Board to take care of the essential business between meetings. It may be called Board of Directors, Executive Board, Board of Managers, or Board of Trustees. The bylaws should state the name of the board, who shall serve as members, and the duties and authority of the board.

In large organizations, there is also an Executive Committee (usually a small number) usually composed of the elected officers to act in emergencies between meetings of the Board or the membership. In some instances, it is expedient to have this body as the only subordinate group with its duties and authority usually designed for a Board.


A nomination is the presentation of the name of a person to the assembly as a nominee for an office to be filled.

Most organizations have detailed provisions for nominating and electing officers in the bylaws or other governing rules. Such details usually include the method of nominations, time of nominations, time and method of election, and details of installation (if this is observed).

Listed below are the most frequently used methods:

  1. Nominations from the Floor.
    1. In order when the presiding officer calls for them.
    2. Require no second.
    3. The presiding officer repeats the names of the nominees and the secretary records them.
    4. When the presiding officer is sure that every opportunity has been given for nominations, the presiding officer may declare the nominations closed. It is in order for any member to move to close nominations; the motion requires a two-thirds vote. Nominations may be reopened by a motion and a majority vote.
  2. Nominations by a Nominating Committee.
    1. The nominating committee shall be elected by the organization according to the rules of the organization (bylaws, policy rules, parliamentary authority).
    2. The nominating committee shall submit to the organization, at the prescribed time, the names of nominees proposed for office (copies to Presiding Officer and Secretary).
    3. Following the report of the nominating committee, the presiding officer shall call for nominations from the floor. When no further nominations are presented, the presiding officer may declare the nominations closed or entertain a motion to close nominations.
    4. The report of the nominating committee is never adopted. (Voting is the act of adoption.)
    5. The membership of the organization may be informed of the names of proposed nominees before the meeting at which the committee submits its report. This should be written into the bylaws or standing rules if the procedure is acceptable. (Nominations from the floor must still be allowed.)


Being nominated to office does not within itself put a person in office. Nominees must be elected. To be elected to office involves membership's voting. The usual methods of voting following the closing of nominations are as follows:

  1. Voice Vote: Election may be by voice vote unless a ballot vote is required. (The motion to instruct the secretary to cast the ballot is not good procedure.)
    1. Nominees are voted on in the order in which they are nominated.
    2. Tellers may be appointed to assist with the count of votes and report to presiding officer.
    3. The presiding officer officially announces the result and declares the election.

  2. Ballot Vote:
    1. Where a ballot vote on nominees is required or expedient, it is important to make the necessary preparation for ballots, ballot boxes, time allotment, and space as needed.
    2. Tellers to count the ballots should be carefully selected and instructed on correct procedure. Common sense must govern the validity of ballots if no rules exist. Three is the usual number of tellers but size of organization may determine number.
    3. Tellers report the result of the election at the designated time and give copies of the report to the presiding officer and the secretary.
    4. The presiding officer repeats the results and declares the election.

    Officers assume their duties at the time designated by the organization. Usually the time is stated in the bylaws and provides for taking office at the close of the meeting at which they are elected or following an installation at some future time. If no rules exist in practice or policy, the officers assume their duties upon election.

    Organizations that have a widely distributed membership and find it difficult to assemble members for elections may opt to hold elections by mail or permit proxy voting. Both of these methods are complicated and require detailed governing rules.

    General Definitions

      Adopt - to accept or approve a report or statement.

      Adjourn - to close a meeting officially.

      Agenda - a detailed outline of the items under the order of business for a specific meeting.

      Approve - to adopt; to accept; to agree; or to ratify.

      Assembly - a gathering or group of persons with common interest and purpose.

      Chair - the presiding officer; the president; the chairman.

      Debate - discussion.

      Ex officio - by virtue of office (to be designated in bylaws). Full privilege of other members.

      General consent - informal agreement without the formality of a motion.

      Germane - closely related; of the same subject matter.

      House, The - the assembly; the members assembled for the transaction of business.

      Order of business - a sequence of business to be taken up at a session of an assembly; a schedule of business to be considered at a meeting.

      Pro tem - for the time being; acting in place (Latin pro tempore).

      Quorum - the number of members, as stated in bylaws, that must be present for a legal transaction of business. If not stated in bylaws, it is a majority of the membership.

      Rank - precedence; having priority.

      Recess - an intermission within a meeting approved by the members.

      Table/desk or "care of the secretary" - thus, "laying on the table" means entrusting to the care of the secretary.

    Definitions Related to Motions

      Amend - modify or change.

      Immediately pending question - the last question (motion) stated by the chair.

      Motion - a formal proposal that certain action be taken; the question.

      Main motion - a motion which introduces a new subject.

      Pending question (motion) - a motion that has been stated by the chair and is under consideration.

      Question, The - the business before the house.

      Resolution - a formal motion. It may have a preamble setting forth the reasons.

    Definitions Related to Votes

      Division of the house - a rising vote to determine the exact number of votes.

      Majority vote - more than half of the votes cast by persons entitled to vote.

      Plurality vote - the highest number of votes when there are three or more choices.

      Tie vote - the same number of each side.

      Two-thirds vote - two-thirds of the votes cast by persons entitled to vote.

    Definitions Related to Methods of Voting

      Ballot vote - a written vote; secrecy the main object. (All blanks are ignored.)

      Mail vote - method to be provided in bylaws.

      Proxy vote - a vote cast by another on authority given by member; only valid if provided in bylaws.

      Roll call - voice vote by calling roll of members.

      Standing vote - members stand to indicate vote.

      Unanimous vote - no one dissenting.

      Voice vote - response of "aye" or "no" by members to indicate vote.

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    About the Author:

    By Bettye Wadsworth, Leadership Development Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service

    Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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