Dear Parliamentarian Vol. 40 June '99
Dear Parliamentarian Vol. 40 June '99
Answers to your Parliamentary Questions
"Dear Parlimentarian" is written by the author of Parliamentary Procedures Made Simple: The Basics, an 80 minute video that tells how to have better meetings.
Our organization had a committee review the bylaws for revision. Instead of making many little changes the committee re wrote the full document. Do we vote the full document up or down or should we approve article by article?
According to your letter the organization gave the bylaws committee the permission to do a "revision". This is handled differently than individual amendments. You vote the whole document up or down, but the members are allowed to propose changes.
There is a complete procedure for this and it is on our WEB Site <http://parli.com. Look under "Bylaws" and click on the one that talks about presenting the bylaw revision to the membership. Every step of the procedure is clearly explained.
The following person wrote asking if we could help on a voting question. I replied yes, but they must send all the details. I later called on the phone to talk with the person.
OK.....I want to give you as many facts as possible... In April, the President chose a Nomination Committee. The nomination Committee accepted nominations for executive board positions from the floor of a the general membership meeting. In May, elections were held in person at the monthly general membership meeting. Voting done by secret paper ballot. At the end, the Nomination Committee , who was tallying the votes, declared an invalid election due to 180 ballots cast and only 149 or so members who signed in. Needless to say, there were a lot of angry and frustrated members. A motion was made to send mail ballots out to ONLY the 180 people who showed up that night. The Nomination Committee took all the paperwork home to review. The Nomination Committee Chairman tells the President via phone that the best way to handle this is to send a mail ballot to all paid members. The Nomination Committee Chairman then sends a letter to the President recommending a re vote at the next election??!! The President, sends a letter to ALL the members stating the election is on hold till September and includes a ballot for the membership to choose the method of election to be used. At the June General Membership meeting, about 50 members FORCE an election. The President walks out, stating he will NOT condone any election that does not take into consideration the other 450 members.
An "election" is held with 3 members "winning". Various petitions are submitted and letters submitted to the President from members who DEMAND the right to vote.
Whew !!!! What do I do now ??? Who supercedes who ?? Are there by law or rule violations ? Can the members demand another election ?
Let’s look at some of the mistakes made and how you can avoid these in the future and what you can now do to solve this entire problem.
First, the nominating committee’s duty is to find nominations for the different offices and then give a nominating report to the membership. It is then common parliamentary procedure for the president to then ask for nominations from the floor (unless your bylaws prohibit this. We do not advise this prohibition). After the nominating committee has given its report, its work is done. It does not act as an election committee or teller committee. (those who count the ballots).
Since your organization is so large, you really should have a teller committee and one that is well trained in counting the ballots. See our chapter about this in our book, ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER SIMPLIFIED AND APPLIED.
Teller Committee is separate from the nominating committee. It is the teller committee’s responsibility to collect and count the ballots. They give a teller’s report and then give it to the president to read and announce the results of the vote. Again see our chapter about this procedure in our book.
Before voting began, you should have asked the people in charge of the members signing in how many were present. They should have come to the front and announced this to the assembly. As president, you should have asked, ‘has everyone signed in? If not then we need you to do this now. If you don’t sign in, then the total on the sign up sheet is the basis for the number of ballots cast."
At that point the procedure would be to ask the tellers to give members ballots to vote. Explain the voting procedure. For example, "Mark an X by the name you are voting for". Or "if you write in a name, then mark and "X" in front of it." Be sure that all the members understand the procedure.
When it looks like people are ready to vote, ask the tellers to collect the ballots or the members to come forward and cast their ballots in the box designated for this. Before the tellers take the ballots to count them, ask, "Has everyone voted who wishes to vote?" This gives any newcomer the opportunity to vote or makes sure no one has been overlooked. If someone new comes in during the voting process, be sure they have signed in and then give the new number to the tellers committee before they count the votes. If no one rises or states they would like to vote, then announce that "the polls are closed and the tellers will count the ballots." At this time I would ask the person in charge of signing people in that they give the number of those present again.
Or another procedure that you could do is to give everyone a ballot as they sign in. If someone comes in during the balloting and before the polls are closed to count the ballots, they still could participate in the vote because as they signed in they would be given a ballot. If you use this procedure, then you could state, "The next business in order is the election of officers. Does everyone have a ballot? You should have received it when you signed in." If people say they don’t have a ballot, then you know they haven’t signed in and they need to do so before they can vote.
Now in organizations like this, ROBERT’S RULES states that it is good to have the election early in the meeting so that if no one gets a majority vote, then you can take the vote again. Members should have been aware of this because the proper procedure would have been to take the vote immediately after the first vote when they found the discrepancy between those on the list and those voting.
Since this wasn’t done, another procedure could have been for the members to vote to postpone the election to the next meeting. (This would take care of many of those who just came to vote and then left.)
Now let’s look at what can be done to solve this situation.
First, it would be normal parliamentary procedure to have the election at the next meeting and not wait until September. So the members who raised a ruckus had a reason to do this but it was not necessary for them to behave in such a manner. The right procedure would have been to make a motion reversing the decision of the president and board to have the election in September and to hold it at the next meeting.
Now because a letter was sent to the members stating that the election would be held in September, the election held in June was null and void. This letter of previous notice has precedence over what the members did at the June meeting. The principle here is that you are protecting the rights of the absent members.
In our phone conversation, you stated that you included in the letter a ballot asking the members how they wanted to handled the voting procedure. But you also told me that the bylaws state it must be in person and by ballot. The members, even by a unanimous vote cannot over rule the bylaws. You must take this vote the way it is stated in the bylaws--members being present and a vote by ballot.
This is what I recommend, first that you get your voting procedures thoroughly worked out so that this won’t happened again. Have all members come in one door and sign in! Get a teller’s committee that knows how to take care of balloting. Have a sheet of paper explaining it to the members.
Write another letter to the membership explaining the problems with this election and the mistakes that were made by all sides. Then explain that the election will take place at the July meeting and in accordance with the bylaws. If there needs to be re-balloting that it will take place the same evening. It is right that new officers be elected and start their terms as soon as possible. If you thoroughly explain what happened and why and how to correct it, you should not have any problem from the membership.
Be sure to keep your cool and to learn the procedures yourself. This will help keep a meeting from becoming disruptive. If all hell ever breaks loose again, you can do one of two things -- call a recess and let everyone cool down and look in Robert’s Rules to find the answer. Or if it looks like people are really out of control, then (and only in this situation do you have the right) to adjourn the meeting.
I would highly recommend that you read our book ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER SIMPLIFIED AND APPLIED. It explains many things that will help you be a good presiding officer.
The Registered Parliamentarian
I hope you don't mind but I retrieved your E-mail address after studying the RONR web site. My Association is in turmoil over our recent Elections. We are a fraternal organization of Italian American, Correction Officers, of The City Of New York. We need some help, Fast!
OK, I want to be as fair as possible, so this might get a little lengthily, please bear with me. Let me start by stating that in February, the month preceding the Nominations, The President and Second Vice President tried to pass a motion to change the voting process from a closed ballot vote (as stated in our By-laws) to a Mail-In type vote. This motion was argued to be unethical, due to its timing, and voted down by the majority membership at the general meeting.
In March a Nominating Committee of five members, including one Chairman, was chosen by the President and approved by the membership. At the April meeting, competition for the Second VP was nominated, as anticipated, along with Treasurer and Sergeant At Arms positions; all other spots ran unopposed. All candidates were approved by the committee and cleared to run for election with no objections. So far so good, this is where it really starts to get embarrassing.
Come the May meeting its election night, and the hall was mobbed and each candidate was given the opportunity to speak As emotions rose for all, our President capped off the politicking with what turned into an emphatic rally cry for the incumbent Second VP. In fact he was as far to sway the membership to say that he would be NO PART of an Executive Board without him. At this point even the casual observer could see that he was not an impartial participant in this election.
Although the Election Committee tried their best to keep it organized many people there refused to cooperate and created great confusion. This complied with the fact that the present Executive Board failed to bring an updated member listing, and they insisted to supply the committee with the Ballots and the Ballot Box, which arrived already locked and nobody inspected it. We anticipated a tuff race but we also expected an Honest one. You can see where this is going.
When the votes were tallied by the committee they arrived with a 90 - 90 dead lock for 2nd VP. 180 total votes, but only 168 people were registered for attendance! Neither of the other two races added up to 180 votes, both were also over! Now keep in mind that during the election process the President watched along with all the candidates and no grievance to the vote was made by any party. After a few hours of deliberation, the committee call the election null and void due to some obvious overstuffing of the ballot by one of the parties.
With half the members departed and the half that was still present getting annoyed and hostile, the committee decided it wouldn't be fair to have a revote at that time. The meeting was adjourned with all the votes, sign-in logs and any relevant materials secured by the Committee. It was left for them to weed through and explore our options.
In the next week, the committee held a special meeting to derive how to proceed. It was agreed upon with the President that whatever they decided would be submitted to him in a letter that would be sent out to the entire membership. With that said, they met and made their decision that the last election was invalid and a new election would take place at the next general membership meeting, with better controls and restraints in place. They came to this conclusion after weighing the options of a mail in ballot. They said that they took in the factors of cost; the By-laws (remember the previous motion for a mail in ballot was defeated in February; and Roberts Rules of Order [pg.436). Upon receipt of this letter the President had a Departmental teletype go out stating the Election would take place in two weeks on June 14. The following day the teletype was rescinded in its entirety when questioned why, the President stated that he had met with his Board that night (just 4 of the 7, and two of that four were involved in the election controversy) and they decided that the Election process should not be decided by just 5 people (the election committee) and that he was sending out a letter to the membership giving them three choices and he was postponing the Election until September. Even though the President was told by the Election Committee Chairman that he felt it was not a proper decision and that he didn't think that the President even had the authority to do so, he still canceled the election and mailed out his own letter just a several days prior to the upcoming meeting date. Anticipating turmoil at the June 14 meeting, the election committee all agreed that the President was wrong in what he was doing and prepared themselves for a possible election on that night.
As anticipated a motion was put on the floor and seconded, to hold the election that night as stipulated in Roberts Rules Of Order for an incomplete election (pg.436). After discussion, the room overwhelmingly voted to have the Election Committee make the decision based on all the evidence presented to them by all participants. The committee listened to both parties and sided with the party that cited RONR pg. 436, and also contended that the President had overstepped his bounds by rescinding the Committee's previous decision to hold the Election that night. The other parties main arguments were 1) that RONR pg.436 was not in effect because the previous Election was called "Invalid" and that was not the same as "incomplete" 2) They also argued that even though the President may have been wrong for putting out his letter, it was not fair to anyone who received the letter and opted not to attend that night, thinking the election would be held in September.
With the Election Committee's decision to hold the vote that night, the President walked out of the meeting. The First Vice President assumed his duties and presided over the Election along with myself and the Election Committee. Upon completion of the election and the counting of the Ballots (they all added up)! The incumbents were all defeated by large margins. The tabulations were signed by all presiding and the winners were announced (they were all present) and finalized. The meeting was then properly adjourned.
To this date the President is refusing to accept the new members of the board and has refused to turn over any books or relevant materials. Himself and the defeating 2nd Vice president have been politicking a petition along with letters from some members demanding that another (Third) Election be held, once again stating that it wasn't fair for all the members to hold what he has called a "secret election," because of the letter that he put out.
As you can see we are in turmoil on how to proceed. Myself and several other Board members feel that the actions taken were proper and final and are calling for a close to this madness. It is tearing our Association apart and must be called to an end. Can you please help us sort out this dilemma and perhaps elaborate on some of the rulings sited and followed so I can present it to the Board and the Assembly at our next and upcoming Meeting. Thank you in advance for you anticipated assistance.
Mark C. Cancro
3rd Vice President
I have already heard from your President and Vice President. I realize that there are always two sides of a story. My purpose is to get to the truth and give the correct procedures. I do not take sides. Now this is what I have told the others from the information that I was given.
1. An organization can only have a mail ballot for officers if it is in the bylaws. If it isn’t in the bylaws, no vote of the membership can take a vote by mail unless they first amend the bylaws. That takes previous notice and a two thirds vote. It was incorrect for the president to poll the members to ask what method the members wanted to use in voting for officers.
2. I was told that the nominating committee was also the election committee. You just say there was an election committee. Was it also the nominating committee? If so the nominating committee is not an election committee. Once they give the nominations they are finished. Another committee should be appointed that is called a Teller’s Committee. And your organization certainly needs one that is informed on the correct procedures in handing out the ballots, counting them, and giving the report. This whole fiasco could have been prevented with proper election procedures, including the proper sign in procedure.
3. After the ballots are counted and there is a question about them, they should be kept with the secretary until they can be recounted. In this case, when they are counted, representatives of the opposing sides should be present in the room while the count is taking place. But in this case when the results of the vote were announced, since there was such a big discrepancy between those present and those voting, the president should have announced the election invalid and ask for another vote to be taken. Since members left it was right to adjourn the meeting. If the members knew Robert’s Rules then they could have turned to page 436 and announced that the election would be at the next meeting. However that was not done. So now the organization must proceed from what was done.
4. Now you have several problems here and this is what I told your president.
A. It is common parliamentary law to have a revote on an election immediately -- at the same meeting or the next meeting or a special meeting called for this before the next meeting or at the next meeting if it is within a quarterly time interval. However, since the president sent out a letter stating that the election will be in September, that is when the election is to be. (I was not told about his sending a letter out and then rescinding it). The last notification stands as the final notification of the election meeting. Because he is the president and the board (those present at the meeting) agreed with him, this was a valid previous notice to the members that the election was to be held in September. It was incorrect however for the president to ask the members how they want to vote for the officers. The members have to follow the bylaws which I have been told states they must be present to vote and it is by secret ballot.
B. Now about the June meeting. The only thing the Election committee members or any member could have done was raise a point of order at the June meeting about the letter stating the election will be in September. The only motion and business concerning this matter was to make a motion to have the election in July instead of September with the secretary sending a letter to the members giving previous notice about what they voted on at the June meeting. It is usually the secretary’s duty upon request of the board or the proper official (the bylaws usually give this authority) to write and send the letter to give the call of the meeting. However, in some organizations that I am a member of, the president writes the letter to the members and signs it and the secretary mails it. So your president may not be wrong in doing this. I would need to see your bylaws or consider the tradition of the organization.
C. It was incorrect to have the election in June. Therefore it is null and void because the last letter went out stating the membership would vote for officers in September. I know this is hard to take, but when members receive an official document giving notice, that means that the members are expecting to vote in September and not June. This is protecting the rights of the absent members which is one of the most important principles laid down in parliamentary procedure. I realize what page 436 states and of course that should have been followed. However, in Robert’s Rules we have ranking motions and ranking documents and ranking principles. Previous notice now ranks above this rule. Again it is protecting the rights of the absent members. (People may have not come to this meeting because they thought the election would be taking place in September. However, if they knew the election was to take place they may have made every effort to attend the meeting.)
D. I recommended strongly to the president that he have an election meeting in July so that new officers can take office immediately and not wait until September. However, after receiving your e-mail today, I have e-mailed him to hire a professional parliamentarian to help you sort this entire thing out.
I think the thing to do now is to "come let us reason together". A professional parliamentarian can help you put in place a proper election procedure, oversee the counting of ballots, and hopefully help bring calm to this organization.
Don’t be discourage. You don’t have to fear doing things over again and doing them right. The people who won at the June election could still win. I am a firm believer that right wins the day.
The most important thing is to just start with a clean slate. Have some one who really knows parliamentary procedure (hopefully someone who makes a living doing this) help you with the election process, and oversee counting the ballots. This way everyone will know that it has been done honestly and fairly.
I hope you and your president and other board members can come together in the spirit of unity and try to resolve this for the benefit of everyone.
The Register Parliamentarian
Allen Alexander wrote:
A regional organization elects members of its board of directors by a mail ballot. The bylaws and procedural rules neither specify a majority nor state that election by a plurality or any other method is permitted. The bylaws are also silent on any procedure for a runoff. The bylaws state that nominations and a statement by the nominee that he or she has read and is familiar with the ruling documents must be received by the secretary by a
specified time before the ballots are prepared and sent to the membership. There is no language in the ruling documents permitting or prohibiting write in candidates. The bylaws specify that Robert's Rules of Order shall govern any matter not included in the bylaws or rules. Historically, directors receiving a plurality have been declared elected, but to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever questioned this. I have questions based on 2 scenarios.
1. For future elections, if not enough nominees receive a majority, must there be a runoff election or do historical practices permit an election by plurality?
2. Are write in votes permitted?
3. If there are fewer nominees on the ballot than there are positions open and write in votes are cast, may a write in win? If so, (back to #1) must he or she have a majority or is a plurality sufficient?
Your response will be very much appreciated.
This is what Robert’s states about election by plurality vote: (page 400, ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER NELWY REVISED, 1990 ED) "A plurality that is not a majority never chooses a proposition or elects anyone to office except by virtue of a special rule previously adopted. If such a rule is to apply to the election of officers, it must be prescribed in the bylaws. A rule that a plurality shall elect is unlikely to be in the best interest of the average organization. In an international or national society where the election is conducted by mail ballot, a plurality is sometimes allowed to elect officers, with a view to avoiding the delay and extra expense that would result from additional balloting under these conditions. A better method is such cases is for the bylaws to prescribe some form of preferential voting."
If nothing is stated by what vote, and the tradition has been to elect by plurality, then it is my opinion that if one candidate does not get a majority vote then the tradition by electing by plurality would stand. However, since you are amending your bylaws, I suggest that this be put into the bylaws so that there is no confusion.
If Robert’s is your parliamentary authority, he really doesn’t address the issue of custom. However, George Demeter, in his parliamentary authority does. He states that is something has been going on a long time, even if it conflicts with the bylaws, that it takes a two thirds vote without notice or a majority with notice to change it.
Robert’s states that a person does not have to be nominated to be elected. A write in vote could win, but he may not necessarily serve in the office unless that person meet all eligibility requirements.
Allen Alexander wrote:
The chair of a standing committee of a national organization whose duties include consideration of proposed bylaw amendments submits a report to the general assembly of the organization containing recommendations and opinions on the merits, expressed in the first person, concerning proposed bylaw amendments. The report also contains proposals for bylaw amendments stated therein as having been submitted by "the chair" of this committee. The bylaws permit any member to propose an amendment to the bylaws and the chair is a member of the organization. The bylaws require that all proposed
bylaws be sent to the Executive Director not less than 90 days prior to the
meeting of the general assembly. This report was prepared and submitted by the chair without a committee meeting and without consulting all (possibly any) members of the committee.
Should this report be received by the general assembly of the body? If not, how should the question be raised?
Can a bylaw proposal (or motion) be submitted by "the chair" of a committee without the concurrence of the committee? My understanding is that the proper form for a motion originating in a committee is for the chair, or other spokesperson, to rise and state "At the direction of the *** Committee, I move that..." (Think I picked this up in a videotape titled "Parliamentary Procedure Made Simple, The Basics). Although the chair could have proposed this in his own name as an individual member, Does he have the capacity as "the chair" to propose an amendment?
Thank you for your assistance?
- Allen Alexander
Here is the response from a friend of mine:
The chairman of a committee can make motions and debate, but seems this one exceeded that privilege. If the amendment goes through the channels and gets to the floor of the meeting, this member could object to its consideration. This could be embarrassing and not worth it. Think a better suggestion is to see how the amendment fares in the vote andlet it go this time. A watchful eye and some discrete suggestions could be offered in the future. Sometimes a bending of the rules is OK if the assembly or no member is harmed.
Harold Corbin, Registered Parliamentarian.
Now my response:
Has this already happened? If so and no one raised a point of order, then there is nothing that can be done, because it has already happened.
However, if you are a member of the bylaws committee or know someone on the committee, then they need to go to the chairman and let him know that he can’t give a report as a committee report unless the members of the committee vote to give that report. The member of the bylaw committee could also show them in Robert’s Rules where the chairman is to write the report in the third person and then give any proposed bylaw amendments at the end, "by direction of the bylaw committee".
Is this ignorance or the committee chairman just being willful? This needs to be taken into consideration. Just remember, people get away with whatever the membership allows them to do.
The Registered Parliamentarian,
Robert McConnell Productions
Copyright 1999 Robert McConnell Productions, all rights reserved.