Robert’s Rules for Avoiding Out-of-Order Main Motions

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP

No matter how good your idea may be, if you want to propose something that goes against the bylaws (or your charter or constitution, if you have either or both), Robert’s Rules state that your presiding officer has no choice but to rule your motion “out of order,” which is a nice, succinct way of saying, “We can’t go there now because, for some reason, it’s against the rules.”

Of course, if you’re actually proposing to amend the bylaws, constitution, or charter in the manner provided for their amendment, then you’ve found the exception to this rule.

It’s just as out of order to offer a motion again in the same meeting after a direct vote has obliterated it or it was “procedured” to death (and that’s usually a big waste of time and not much fun). The parliamentary gurus will tell you that it’s a fundamental principle of parliamentary law that you don’t put members through the same discussion twice in the same meeting unless somebody who voted on the prevailing side moves to reconsider and a majority agrees to undo the vote and talk about it some more and vote again.

Similarly, if the assembly has disposed of some motion temporarily, as happens when a motion is postponed to your next meeting or handed off to a committee for a thorough work-over, it’s uncool to get sneaky. If old Fred deFumer offers a new motion that conflicts with the motion you postponed or committed, or that is nothing more than a convenient spin on the same question to try to start up the discussion all over again, your chairman can (and should) rule Fred’s motion “out of order.”

Another no-no is to move to do something that isn’t copacetic with something you’ve already decided. Let’s say you have a policy that forbids smoking and drinking on the property. Brazenly, Myrtle Marlboro moves to allow her husband’s cigars-and-cognac club to use the clubhouse for its monthly social gatherings.

If Mr. Chairman is on his toes, he’ll be quick to rule Myrtle’s motion out of order because he knows the club policy doesn’t permit it. If Myrtle wants to get the clubhouse for her hubby’s club, she has some other motions to get passed before her original motion is in order.

Finally, a motion to take some action that is outside the purposes for which your organization exists is out of order, too, unless two-thirds of the members present and voting agree to admit the motion.

Don’t think you have to sit around and wait for the chairman to rule a motion out of order. You can speed things up by taking a little initiative by making use of the incidental motion Point of Order.