The Robert's Rules Process for Handling a Main Motion

When it comes to handling a main motion, Robert's Rules streamlines the process and saves your group a lot of time. Using the following eight steps to consider ideas brought to the group in a systematic and orderly manner doesn't guarantee that everybody gets their way, but it does guarantee that everybody has their say.

  1. The member rises and addresses the chair.

    Members have the right to make motions during a meeting almost any time no other business is pending. The chair's responsibility is to know whether it is in order to entertain a particular main motion.

    When you're ready to make your motion, be sure no one else has the floor, and then stand up and say, "Mr./Madam Chairman (or Mr./Madam President)."

  2. The chair recognizes the member.

    The chair responds in a level tone and impartial manner by saying something along the lines of, "The chair recognizes the member from Elm Acres," or even, "The chair recognizes Delbert." If the chair needs to determine why the member seeks recognition before recognizing the member, the chair says something like, "For what purpose does the member from Elm Acres rise?" In this case, the member responds, "I rise to offer a motion to. . . ." If the motion is in order, the chair proceeds by recognizing the member.

  3. The member states the motion.

    Offer your motion concisely (and with only minimal advance comment, if any at all) by saying, "Mr. Chairman, I move that. . . ."

    For all but the simplest original main motions, write out the motion ahead of time and be prepared to immediately submit the written motion to the chair or the secretary after making the motion.

  4. Another member seconds the motion.

    Main motions must be seconded, meaning that a second member expresses a desire to have the motion considered by the group. To do so, a member simply calls from her place, "Second!"

    If no second is forthcoming, the chair asks, "Is there a second to the motion?" If a second still doesn't come, the motion is said to fall to the floor and simply does not come before the group. If this happens, the chair states that as the case and moves on to the next item of business.

    Contrary to popular belief, a second is not necessarily an endorsement of the idea. The procedure requires a second mainly to ensure that at least one other person thinks the motion should be discussed. A member who opposes the motion may want it to come before the meeting so it can be voted down.

  5. The chair states the motion.

    This step is simple. The chair says, "It is moved and seconded that . . ." and then reads the motion to the members. By then asking, "Is there any discussion?" the motion is put in the control of the group, and the member who made the motion needs the approval of the assembly to withdraw the motion or to make or approve changes on his own.

  6. The members debate the motion.

    The chair recognizes the member who made the motion by saying, "The chair recognizes the member from Elm Acres." The member now has the floor to explain his motion and the reasons behind its creation. Other members may then take the opportunity to seek recognition of the chair to speak for or against the motion. The member wishing to speak rises and addresses the chair by simply saying, "Mr./Madam Chairman/President" and waiting to be recognized.

  7. The chair puts the question and the members vote.

    When all have spoken who wish to do so, it's decision time:

    • Putting the question: The presiding officer now asks the members whether they want to adopt the motion. The motion is voted on by answering a yes-or-no question; hence, the term "question" is often used interchangeably with "motion" in parliamentary usage. After the ayes have been heard, the chair then takes the negative vote by saying, "All opposed say 'No.'"

      Presenting exactly what the members are being asked to decide in a clear manner is very important. The chair should be very deliberate about incorporating the actual language of the motion in the question.

    • The members vote: Motions are commonly decided by voice vote (or viva voce in Robert's Rules). But the presiding officer may, on his own initiative, call for a rising vote, a counted vote, or even a ballot vote. Additionally, before the voting actually begins, any member may offer an incidental motion to conduct the vote using a different method.

  8. The chair announces the result.

    It's all over now, and one side or the other has prevailed. The chair's duty is to make the declaration of fact and to announce the result. He either says, "The ayes have it and the motion carries (or 'is adopted')" or "The noes have it and the motion is lost (or 'fails')."

    The chair also needs to tell the assembly what will happen as a result of the vote — for example, buying or not buying a new copy machine.

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