Robert’s Rules and ASCCC Plenary Voting: A Q & A on Rights and Practices

North, Wheeler, Treasurer

As with most local academic senates, ASCCC’s proceedings at its bi-annual plenary sessions are guided by Robert’s Rules of Order Revised (RROR). Many voting delegates, from first-time attendees to long-time veterans, can be confused by or have questions about the specific rules observed at these events, the ways in which those rules are applied, and the reasons for following these practices. In order to review the aspects of Robert’s Rules that are relevant to our procedures for conducting business at plenary sessions and to clarify the reasons for and importance of those rules, the ASCCC offers the following series of questions and answers.

Q. What are the rights of the participants in plenary session voting and how do RROR protect the rights of all?

A. Parliamentary rules are adopted for the purpose of protecting the rights of all participants. In general, the organization has the right to conduct business in a timely and reasonable manner and to protect itself from either internal or external harm. The majority on any given issue has the right to pass or defeat motions and do so without never-ending rehashing of the topic. The minority voice, those who dissent from the majority position, have the right to have their arguments heard and considered prior to taking action. Each individual voting delegate and registered attendee has the right to participate, or not, without undue pressure or harassment. Both the minority as a whole and each individual plenary attendee have the right to be heard on any given topic, but the organization must also be able to proceed with business in a timely and efficient manner. The presiding chair must balance all of these rights as the meeting unfolds. Thus, the rights of the minority or the individual should not circumvent the rights of the majority or vice-a-versa.

Q. If the minority has a right for its voice to be heard, how and at what point can the body limit or end debate on an issue?

A. The majority should not be allowed to limit debate in a way that prevents the minority from having voice by improperly tabling items or prematurely calling for the question. As long as new perspectives and information are being shared, debate should be allowed to continue. However, when the discussion has become a mere repetition of previous arguments or has strayed from the topic at hand, the majority has a right to end debate so that it may move forward with business efficiently and productively, A motion to end debate requires a 2/3 majority vote to pass, not a simply majority, in order to ensure that a significant percentage of the voting delegates agrees that informative and relevant debate has truly been exhausted,

Q. When amending a resolution, how much is too much and can an amendment change the intent of the original resolution?

A. Under RROR, a resolution is simply a version of a main motion, and thus, as with any main motion, a resolution can be amended by vote of the body. While altering or reversing a resolution’s intent by offering a contrary amendment may often seem unorthodox or distasteful, doing so is not prohibited. Any time the body amends a resolution, it is seeking to change the resolution’s original meaning to some degree. RROR offers no way to quantify what would be too drastic a change, and thus amendments to resolutions, even when they involve substantive changes to the resolution’s intent, are permissible.

One might also consider cases in which the minority, through persuasive arguments during the debate of the resolution, is able to swing the majority opinion to its side. In such a case, a significantly amended resolution might better represent the will of the body than either passing or defeating the original version. Rules that would limit the amendment of resolutions would also limit the body’s ability to accurately voice its positions, and thus such rules could potentially cause more harm than any good they were intended to protect.

Q. If amendments to resolutions are a legitimate practice, why doesn’t the ASCCC allow amendments from the floor during plenary voting?

A. Amendments in general are a necessary and potentially positive instrument for determining and voicing the will of the body. However, language that is constructed quickly or carelessly, whether in a resolution itself or in an amendment, may not portray that will accurately. ASCCC resolutions are published electronically and are frequently referenced by faculty throughout the state. For this reason, the Academic Senate strives to make the language in its resolutions as precise and professional as possible, and such a standard would be difficult to maintain if new wording were suggested from the floor.

In addition, the ASCCC encourages delegates to vote thoughtfully and after careful evaluation of all resolutions and amendments, Written and printed documents allow the body to reflect on the language and implications of the questions under consideration before voting. In order to allow for an effective deliberative process, delegates must be able to review all resolutions and amendments in advance and in written form prior to making decisions on them.

Q. Why do we always have to vote on everything?

A. Formal voting is just one form of coming to a decision. Many smaller bodies function well by seeking consensus. Consensus is not the same as unanimous; technically it means no one objects to the degree that they are willing to voice that objection. A well-conducted meeting can often result in the achievement of consensus on many issues, even in those cases where the outcome is entirely unexpected.

However, for a body like the ASCCC, consensus is not generally a practical method of decision-making. When votes are held only twice per year, and when over one hundred delegates are voting and more than double that number of participants are available to engage in debate, the body would never reach a decision on many issues without a vote. While on certain resolutions the faculty voice has been unanimous, on others a clear consensus would likely never be reached, and decisions must be made in order to give direction to the Senate leadership and to move the work of the Senate forward. Every consideration must be taken to allow full debate and informed decisions, but in the end only a voting system that determines the will of the majority is a practical process for ASCCC plenary sessions.

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