Can the Chairman of a Meeting Vote?Here’s a common parliamentary procedure question: “Can the chair vote?” Robert’s Rules gives us some preliminary help on chair participation with a vague “yes, but only sometimes.” I’d like to take this a step further by addressing some specific circumstances and “what ifs.”

But, before I tell you about the chair’s voting powers, you should know that an underlying principle here is impartiality.

The chair has the same right to vote as everyone else, but Robert’s Rules likes the chair to convey neutrality to the members so that no member feels slighted or has any reason to question whether fundamental member rights are being honored. Because not voting is one way to give the chair an “air of impartiality,” parliamentary procedure allows the chair to vote only in special circumstances. Read on.

The chair can always vote in a small board or committee.

Small boards and committees (i.e., under 12 people) get to relax Robert’s Rules a bit. If you’re in one of these types of groups, the chair can always vote.

The chair can always vote if the vote is a secret.

If you’re using a secret ballot (anonymous voting), the impartiality issue is gone, and the chair can vote.

The chair can always vote if that individual vote would affect the result.

Here’s the rule: If the chair’s vote would make a difference on whether a motion passes or fails, the chair can vote. But the chair doesn’t have to vote in this instance.

And here’s the same principle again: When one vote makes a difference, Robert’s Rules cares a little less about the “air of impartiality.”

Here are three examples of legal chair participation in a close vote and the resulting impact:

A motion is on the floor to renovate the kitchen at the organizational headquarters. The motion needs a majority of those present and voting to pass.

Example 1: Without the chair’s vote, there are 50 votes in the affirmative and 50 votes in the negative. Unless the chair votes, the motion will not pass. (A tied vote on a motion means the motion fails.) The chair thinks, “Food is pretty important stuff. Anything to do with kitchens, I’m in.” So, he votes yes. The new totals are 51 votes in the affirmative and 50 in the negative. The vote passes.

Example 2: Without the chair’s vote, there are 51 votes in the affirmative and 50 votes in the negative. Unless the chair votes, the motion will definitely pass. The chair thinks, “You know, we could really use that money to restripe the parking lot. And I’m all about practicality. Food can wait.” So, he votes no. Now the total votes are 51 in the affirmative and 51 in the negative. Because a tied vote is not a passing vote, the motion fails.

Example 3: There are 51 votes in the affirmative and 50 votes in the negative. Unless the chair votes, the motion will definitely pass. The chair thinks, “People might judge me if I vote in the affirmative and hijack the kitchen renovation. I’ll just be quiet.” So, he abstains. That means the totals don’t change—there are still 51 votes in the affirmative and 50 votes in the negative. The motion is adopted.

So, if you’re the chair of your organization, use your voting power carefully. And in the back of your mind, do prioritize impartiality as an important aspect of wise leadership.

3 Facts You Must Know About a Point of OrderThere are common mental images that go with the words “parliamentary procedure” or “Robert’s Rules.” One of them is a person waving his arm and yelling “Point of order!” with all the vigor needed to move a mountain. But what is a point of order anyway?

Here are three defining facts about a point of order that will help you understand when to say those words – with or without the arm-waving and vigor.

A point of order is an announcement that the rules are not being followed.

If you’re in a meeting and the group’s rules are not being followed, a point of order is the way you deal with that.

Here’s the picture: It’s the chair’s job to know the group’s rules and enforce them. And if he’s not paying attention, and something’s happening that shouldn’t be, a point of order is the way to let him and everyone else know: Hey, we have rules here because we care about members’ rights. Here’s how the rules are not being followed right now. Can you please fix that?

And remember, organizations have many different kinds of rules: statutes, bylaws, special rules, parliamentary procedure. You can use a point of order to address violations of any of these rules.

A point of order is not a “viewpoint” that you want to share with the group.

It’s common for members to get confused and think that a point of order is their opportunity to wax eloquent about whatever they think is wrong with the organization and the world.

Example: Adam Always-Right jumps up, hollering, “Point of order! I have had issues with this board of directors for years. They’ve driven the finances of our group into the ground, and they’re against progress. It’s time for a change!”

I hate to break it to Adam and everyone else, but that’s not a point of order. That’s just regular, old debate about who should be on the board of directors. Save those comments for the time on the agenda designated for discussing that issue, or share them during the members’ forum.

A point of order is not a way to show off your Robert’s Rules expertise.

Many groups have a Nancy Know-It-All – a member who makes it obvious she knows more parliamentary procedure than everyone else. If that’s you, that’s awesome that you’re in the know, but please use your knowledge for good and not to slow down the meeting with points of order about Robert’s Rules minutiae when members’ rights aren’t actually being stepped on.

And if you’re Nancy, you’re probably thinking that I just sold you out. After all, aren’t professional parliamentarians like me supposed to be consumed with making sure every last rule is followed?

Not really. The rules are helpful, and even the picky points have their place. But the fundamentals are what’s important in running a meeting fairly.

And believe it or not, Robert is with me on this one. Robert’s Rules states that making points of order “on minor irregularities of a purely technical character” is “undesirable” if there’s no real harm to members’ rights or the transaction of business.

So, if you’re a walking resource on all things parliamentary procedure, that’s great. Just make sure you use your familiarity with the rules for the benefit of the group and the goals it’s trying to achieve.

How to Take a Vote in 5 Easy StepsChairing a meeting is harder than it looks. And at times parliamentary procedure doesn’t make that job any easier. Keeping track of what motion is on the floor and who to recognize next is tough. Taking a vote the proper way might seem like a luxury.

Well, as a professional, I’m here to tell you it’s not. Following a pattern and using consistent language to take a vote can do wonders to move your meeting along. Here’s a tried-and-true method.

Voting Step 1: Tell members that it’s time to vote.

Once discussion is over, give the members a heads-up that it’s voting time.

Say this: “There is no further discussion. We will now take a vote.”

Voting Step 2: Tell members what motion they’re voting on.

This is a necessary but often-skipped step. I know you think that members are so entranced by the floor debate and your flawless leadership skills that they know precisely what motion is on the floor for a vote. Let me tell you—they may be looking at you, but they’re thinking about their fantasy football team, not the meeting. So, help everyone out and remind members what they’re voting on before you ask them to vote.

Say this: “The motion on the floor is that we hold a bake sale on January 31 to raise funds for the local homeless shelter.” OR “We are voting on the following motion: that we hold a bake sale on January 31 to raise funds for the local homeless shelter.”

Voting Step 3: Ask members who is in favor of the motion and who is opposed.

You’ve told everyone it’s time to vote and what they’re voting on. Now, ask them to vote.

Say this: “All those in favor, say ‘aye.’ All those opposed, say, ‘no.’” OR “All those in favor, please rise. Be seated. All those opposed, please rise. Be seated.”

(P.S. Read my earlier post to make sure you don’t screw up this step.)

Voting Step 4: Announce the results of the vote.

Tell members who won.

Say this: “The ‘ayes’ have it, and the motion is adopted.” OR “The ‘nos’ have it, and the motion is not adopted.”

Voting Step 5: Announce the effect of the vote.

This step just clarifies what will happen as a result of the vote. All you have to do is tell people whether you will or won’t be doing what the motion said.

Say this: “We will hold a bake sale on January 31 to raise funds for the local homeless shelter.”

Maybe you read these steps and think, overkill—as in, this will take forever and complicate life.

Well, before you write it off, can you just give it a try? Obviously, it’s more words than just saying, “Ok, let’s vote. Who’s in favor? Awesome. Let’s have a bake sale.” But I promise, the extra words are worth it because they keep everyone on the same page, saving you the trouble of getting everyone caught up, especially the guy who was thinking about his fantasy football team. And the consistency of the wording sets your members at ease because they know what to expect. Process helps everyone.