Robert's Rules

What is Robert's Rules?
  • Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 11th ed. is the designated parliamentary authority of the Assembly, governing the debate procedures and how the Assembly otherwise goes about its business in formal meetings.
  • Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised (RONR) is the "gold standard" of parliamentary procedure; it's origins to back go Heny Robert, a then Major and member of the Army Corp. of Engineers who studied the procedure of many local assemblies and codified those rules into a standard reference book.  That book has since been revised in order to make adjustments throughout the years since its first publication in 1876.  The book, and its revisions, have become the most widely used parliamentary authority in the United States.
  • RONR is used in many deliberative assemblies (bodies which discuss and vote on matters) from boards to local governments to student governments like RUSA.
What are the goals of Robert's Rules?
  • Robert's Rules (RONR) serves two very important functions for all deliberative bodies:
    • Allowing for efficient and fair procedures through which meetings are run and decisions can be made, and
    • Ensuring that the minority opinion can be heard while ensuring that the majority can still proceed to make decisions.
  • In other words, RONR makes things fair by ensuring that everyone can (generally) make the same motions and that people who disagree with the majority position can do so, but that the majority can still get things done.
    • Generally, the greater the majority, the less time it takes to get things accomplished (e.g., passing legislation).
How does Robert's Rules work from a broad standpoint?
  • In virtually all cases, there is a question pending before the Assembly, although it is usually implicit.
    • That question can range from should we pass this bill? to should we amend this resolution in this way? to should we end debate and vote? to should we postpone the debate on this question until the next meeting?.
  • People essentially propose questions to the Assembly through motions, which are broken up into different classes and can generally be moved by any voting member.
    • Some motions are only in order at certain times (for example, you can't make a motion to amend a resolution is no such resolution is currently pending before the Assembly) and many motions must receive a second (another voting member who agrees that the Assembly should consider the motion).
  • Questions can generally 'built upon one another' and the Assembly considers the current motion, proceeding back to the last unanswered question.
    • For example, the first question being considered is a resolution, upon which the Assembly has yet to vote.  A proper motion for a recess was made and failed, so the Assembly resumes the consideration of the resolution.  Someone then moves an amendment.  Upon its passage or failure, the last unanswered question is the resolution, so debate on the resolution continues.
How do we classify motions under Robert's Rules?
  • Motions can be classified in multiple ways.
  • There are three (3) main categories, or classes, of motions:
    • Main Motions - the main point (usually an item on the agenda) which is posed before the Assembly, usually in the form of a resolution, or an appropriations bill, et cetera.
    • Subsidiary Motions - a motion made that deals with the main motion and how it could be revised or how the question should be answered, e.g., motion to amend.
    • Privileged Motions - a brief motion that is typically handled immediately, e.g., a motion to recess which would be voted on quickly before the body would move on to other business.
    • Important Note: These are general and basic explanations.  It does not include every classification of motions, nor every way in with Robert's Rules classifies motions, and not every motion is handled or functions exactly as described.  This information is meant to serve as a foundation for how motions are classified under Robert's Rules.
  • Additional classifications, which overlap with the categorizations above, include whether the motion is debatable, whether the motion is amendable, or whether or not the motion must receive a second before being considered.
  • Motions are also ranked based on an order of precedence, meaning that certain motions must be considered before other motions.
How do I, as a voting member, make a motion?
  • Generally, any voting member can make a motion at any course of the meeting of the Assembly.  There are certain times at which a motion is not in order (e.g., a motion to amend is not in order if no bill or resolution is being proposed, a motion to amend -- and most other motions -- is not in order during a vote).  General procedure dictates that a member raise their hand and wait to be recognized by the presiding officer.
  • After the chair (presiding officer) recognizes the person, they state their motion and wait for a second.  (Amendments must generally be submitted to the Parliamentarian.)
    • If the motion does not receive a second, it fails; if the motion is heard and it receives a second, then it will generally be considered.
  • For amendments, please consult the Reference Materials page on this website and note that amendments must generally be submitted in writing so that it can be projected before the Assembly.
  • If you have questions about how to make a type of motion, you may wish to consult the Parliamentarian prior to the meeting.  During the meeting, you can raise a Point of Parliamentary Inquiry to ask for an advisory opinion.