Robert's Rules and Division of the Question

You can use the incidental motion Division of the Question when a single motion is made that proposes several different actions, each of which could stand alone as a separate motion.

For a motion to be subject to use of the motion to divide the question, the parts have to be capable of standing on their own. A motion to purchase a television and give it to the school can’t be divided because, if you don’t purchase the television, you can’t give it to the school.

Furthermore, motions to amend that would change the same word or phrase throughout a motion can’t be divided. (These motions are called conforming amendments.)

The motion Division of the Question applies to two unique situations.

  • On a single-subject motion. Suppose that good ol’ Stumpy (the guy who just can’t let go of his brilliant ideas) makes it to your meeting again. He has a brand-new motion that the group start meeting at his brother Bumpy’s pizza place and that you be served the Stumpy Weekly Special Combo pizza with a tankard of Lucky Lagerbrau Ale.

    Now, you’re all for changing to meet at Bumpy’s Pizzeria, but you would rather order your own selections from the menu. So you second the motion, and as soon as the chair states the motion, you move to divide the question: “Mr. Chairman, I move to divide the question to first vote on where we’ll meet and then vote on the menu.”

    The chairman hears somebody say “Second” and thinks your motion is so darn reasonable that no one will object, so he says, “It’s been moved and seconded to divide the question into two parts to first decide on a new meeting place and then to decide on the menu.”

    Then he asks for general consent instead of taking a vote; hearing no objection, he declares the motion divided and puts each question separately. You vote to meet at Bumpy’s Pizzeria, and you wind up amending the second motion to provide for individual orders for lunch.

  • On a motion covering several unrelated items. This situation often arises when a committee reports multiple recommendations on several different matters referred to it, and after presenting the report, the reporting member moves adoption of “the recommendations contained in the report.”

    Suppose that you’re considering the report of the dress code committee, and you hear all the different proposals they’ve recommended. Most are absurd, but you think one recommendation is right on target.

    In this scenario, the chair must take up that question separately. She may even get smart and divide out the other recommendations on her own motion by unanimous consent — but she doesn’t have to.

    The same principle applies if someone offers a list of amendments to a motion (or a primary amendment) that are all over the place, proposing changes to this, that, and the other. Although it may be a good way to clean up a lot of technical problems, any member can keep it from being an all-or-nothing proposition.

    If a member thinks that one of the amendments needs to be carved out and voted on separately, he can insist that the chair divide the question and take a vote on one or more of the amendments on the list.

The motion Division of the Question

  • Can’t interrupt a speaker who has the floor

  • Needs to be seconded

  • Isn’t debatable

  • Can be amended

  • Requires a majority vote (but if the parts of the motion to which it is applied are unrelated, one member may demand the division of the question)

  • Can’t be reconsidered

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