In order to ensure a fair process in which all voices and opinions are heard and given appropriate weight, organizations often develop processes and rules that govern meetings, voting, leadership, membership and other organizational considerations. While deciding how to govern your particular organization may seem like a difficult task, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. In fact, many organizations use some variation of "Robert's Rules of Order," a publication that covers aspects of organizational behavior. In particular, Robert's Rules includes several methods of conducting a vote in a meeting.
Before Voting: Motions, Debate and Putting the Question
State the Question. Following the making and seconding of a motion, the chair of the meeting should reread or direct that another member reread, out loud, the specific issue that is to be voted upon, before opening the floor to debate. The chair should then inquire of the assembly whether or not they are ready to vote, which Robert's Rules terms as "Putting the Question." If no one rises to speak, the chair will skip debate and call the vote.
Debate the issue fully. The chair should take care that the discussion stays on the topic at hand, that members conduct themselves respectably and that speakers are chosen who fairly represent the issue. This might be accomplished by setting a time limit for debate, by alternating "pro" and "con" speakers or by taking care that all members who wish to be heard on the subject are heard. While your organization may choose to alter this rule, Robert's Rules proscribes that each member has the right to speak twice about a particular issue on a given day.
"Put the Question" (call the vote). When the chair sees that debate has concluded, he should ask again if members are ready to vote. In Robert's Rules, this is done by asking "Are you ready for the question?" Debate can also be closed by the assembly if a large number of members, often 2/3, agree to call the vote. At this time, if a long period of time has passed since the motion was last read, the chair will reread it and then officially call the vote.
Voting on the Question
Determine the appropriate voting method. The most common, and the simplest, form of voting in Robert's Rules is "Viva Voce" ("by the voice"), in which the chair simply asks for a verbal, simultaneous "aye" or "nay" and determines the result by volume. Other methods include asking for a show of hands (or for members to rise), roll call (in which each member's name is called and his vote is recorded publicly), and voting by ballot. You should determine which method is most appropriate for the issue and for your organization.
Conduct the vote. When voting by secret ballot, a designated member should pass out uniform slips of paper on which members may record their votes and then collect the votes once they have been written. The chair should be responsible for keeping track of votes and should take great care to keep ballots secret and ensure that all votes are valid. If conducting another form of vote, the chair should call the vote and publicly determine the result.
Count and report the vote. In the case of a simple voice vote, the chair simply announces the result by saying, "The ayes/nays have it, the motion is passed/defeated." If the chair is unable to determine the result, he may call for a counting of hands or a calling of the roll. Additionally, any member may ask for a "division of the house," or a public demonstration of some kind (show of hands, calling the roll) showing which member voted which way. In the case of a counted vote, the chair should first announce the number of votes on each side. The secretary should record the motion, the vote and the result (specific numbers in the case of counted votes) in the minutes.
"Robert's Rules of Order" includes many more details and scenarios which your organization should tailor to its own needs.
If your members are new to this kind of procedure, you should make sure that everyone knows exactly how a meeting will go, what voting is like, how to make motions, etc. Otherwise, members may feel left out of the discussion or confused about what has been decided.
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