A while ago I tried to get a bare-bones version of Robert’s Rules of order to make a democracy work.
I have seen so many bad attempts at “democracy” by the Left that it’s ridiculous, basically the committeemen at the front of the room saying “Okay, here’s what we can do,” allowing a brief period of discussion, and putting it to a vote without even giving a chance for alternatives to emerge or even having a process or budgeted/scheduled time to handle opposing proposals even if they do arise! This is not an attack on any one organization or anything — I have seen this all over the fricking place!
Here they are:
The Beauty of Secondary Motions
While Robert’s Rules has a lot of names for type of motions, I’ve boiled it down into two clarifying categories: primary and secondary. Primary (or main) motions are the actual proposals people make in order to make group decisions for group action. Secondary motions (also called incidental, privileged, or subsidiary) tend to be related to procedure, and help move things along.
What if someone makes a proposal – a motion – and then someone else proposes an amendment? Or how do we actually bring discussion to a close? Is that its own motion, which now opens up a whole new can of worms of discussion? Does the process telescope endlessly like Russian dolls, leading to a process that consumes time and never ends?
The beautiful difference is this: secondary motions cannot be discussed. They must be immediately voted upon.
So if someone proposes to amend a proposal, we don’t discuss the merits of the change (or not yet). We just vote on it right then. (Now of course someone is free to say “hey come on, that was a good idea!” after losing the vote, provide reasons why, and raise it again. But after the second time they should definitely stop.)
Secondary motions include:
- Motion to table an motion
- Motion to bring to a vote
- Point of order (bringing up rules and demanding the chair enforce them)
- Appealing a point of order (democratically overruling the chair’s decisions)
- Question of privilege (Is the speaking environment currently unfair? Proposal to change it)
- Adjourn or recess
- Objecting to the consideration of a question (that’s so stupid/disgusting/offensive we shouldn’t even talk about it, raised immediately after a motion if it somehow received a second)
- Call for the order of the day (like point of order; demanding we talk about what we earlier agreed to be talking about now)
- Amending a motion
- Dividing a motion (if a proposal is made of component parts, all members have the right to immediately demand they be divided into separate motions that may be voted up and down separately)
When these motions are immediately voted, some require majority and some require 2/3. (In a tie, the motion “fails to pass” and is essentially rejected.) It’s typically motions which limit speech, such as bringing discussion to a close or objecting to the consideration of a question, which require 2/3.
“If there are no objections” is actually normal practice. After most statements the chair should ask if there are objections. If there are none, the motion is adopted. The chair can also do this themselves to move things along as long as they don’t unfairly rush it. This could probably be used undemocratically; don’t.
Interrupting others while they are speaking – the interruptor must state their motion (typically “point of order” or “question of privilege”). The chair then has the floor and asks the interruptor why they have interrupted. The interruptor states their purpose. The chair then makes a call, but can be overruled by an appeal.
What Happens if Someone Makes a Motion?
In order for the motion to even be considered, it needs a second. The proposer (mover?) should also indicate some rather specific language which they are proposing be adopted, or at least a specific plan of action. (Making clear motions is something we all need to improve at.)
If the motion is seconded, it is now on the floor. This doesn’t mean it has to dominate conversation; other things can be discussed and several motions can be in play (or “pending”) at the same time.
However, one of several things must happen to a motion before the meeting or agenda session ends. A motion must either be (1) decided by passing or rejecting it in a vote, (2) postponed for reconsideration at a definite time, (3) tabled.
(Note that tabling a motion can be used as a bureaucratic maneuver for killing it forever, if the motion is never raised again, so if you care about a motion, it’s advisable that you rely on yourself to remember it and raise it again at the next meeting instead of relying on a chair or secretary.)
As described above, amendments or calls to bring the matter to a vote are secondary motions which do not open up a new segment of discussion but instead require an immediate vote up or down.
How Discussion is Ended and Matters Brought to a Vote
At some point during discussion, the chair may ask “are there any objections to bringing the matter to a vote?” If there are none, a vote proceeds.
A member may motion to bring the matter to a vote. “To bring the matter to a vote” is a secondary motion which itself must be immediately voted on, but not be discussed. It must pass by 2/3.
If the 2/3 vote is met, the vote on the issue itself takes place.
If the 2/3 vote is not met, discussion continues until either the chair or a member once again motions to bring the matter to a vote.
Member: “I motion that we vote.” (This is non-discussable.)
Chair: “Any objection?”
Other member: “Yes actually I object, I’d like more discussion.”
Chair: “Then we must vote on the motion to bring discussion to an end.” (Chair then proceeds to conduct the vote, by voice vote, ballot, roll call, or whatever works for the situation.)
Chair: “2/3 support voting now. Let us vote.” (Chair conducts new vote on the actual issue.)
Chair: “We don’t have 2/3 who support voting now. Let discussion resume.”
“Joe was next on the stack. Before he speaks anyone else want to get on stack?”
“Stack is open.”
Only Discussion of Motions Permitted?
In Robert’s Rules of Order, discussion is actually limited to motions. No discussion is permitted except when it is related to a motion on the floor. This apparently keeps sessions moving along by focusing conversation on actual action plans.
This is completely opposite of Left discussional culture where endless rambling happens with zero connection to concrete proposed motions. The Left’s open-ended conversation can be helpful – sometimes we do need to discuss politics without knowing a clear answer right here and now. But maybe we could lean toward being a little more action-oriented too, given our habit for circular meetings which lead to more meetings.
We may want to continue the stack system which allows general discussion. However many of us are hesitant to make a motion still because there was no procedure and it seemed like that motion would henceforth dominate all conversation until resolved. We should get in a habit of making motions, without seeing it as something we have to walk on eggshells about. Even propose things you are not 100% certain of yourself. This will give us the benefit of decisiveness, by concretizing what decision we are actually talking about, without taking away the right to make general statements.
So my proposal is not to ban discussion unrelated to motions, but to encourage a culture where motions are frequently made without feeling like it is contentious or imposing anything on anyone. But now that we have an actual procedure which makes clear that making a motion does not (1) dominate conversation, or (2) need to be immediately resolved, we should feel comfortable making them.