Parliamentary Procedure

Freddie Colston, PRP  is the Eastern Province Parliamentarian. Colston received his B.S. from Grambling State University in 1971 and the M.S. in mass communications from the University of District Columbia in 1981. He is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP). He is currently parliamentarian to the Supreme Knights of Columbus, Romance Writers of America, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Eastern Province, Grambling Alumni D.C. Chapter, and the Mayor/Town Council of Forest Heights, Maryland.

Robert’s Rules of Order Resources

Roberts Rules of Order 101

Excerpt from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Robert’s Rules, 2nd Edition by Nancy Sylvester, MA, PRP, CPP-T – Author

Simply stated, it’s an organized system that allows a group of people to come together and make a decision. The system is made up of basic principles and rules that determine how the group will proceed through the decision-making process. Parliamentary procedure is about helping the group come to a decision; it is not about helping any one individual get his or her way, and it is certainly not intended to prevent members from participating in the group.

Parliamentary procedure also helps the group stay focused on a single issue until the members resolve it. This technique helps groups make better, more logical decisions—they have the advantage of many minds working together using a systematic approach to problem-solving. In many respects parliamentary procedure is the “rules of the road” for meetings, but I hope you will see that it’s not simply a set of rules. Rather, you should think of it as a set of guidelines by which to conduct meetings.

The object of Rules of Order is to assist an assembly to accomplish in the best possible manner the work for which it was designed. To do this it is necessary to restrain the individual somewhat, as the right of an individual, in any community, to do what he pleases, is incompatible with the interests of the whole. Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty.
—Words of Wisdom from Henry M. Robert, December, 1875.

Getting Down to Basics

The following are the foundational concepts upon which parliamentary procedure is based:

  • One thing at a time. Only one main motion is allowed on the floor at a time, but there is a system to put that motion aside if something more urgent comes up.
  • One person, too. Only one person may talk at a time.
  • And only one time per meeting. The same motion, or practically the same motion, can not be made more than once per session (the only exception is if a member changes his or her mind).
  • Enough of us have to be here to decide. The group determines the minimum number of people (called a quorum) that must be present to make a decision for the whole group.
  • Protected even if absent. The rights of the members who are absent are protected.
  • Vote requirements are based on members’ rights. The determination of what kind of vote is needed (such as majority, two thirds, and so on) is based on members’ rights. If an action gives rights to the members, it requires a majority vote to pass. If an action takes away rights from members, it requires a two thirds vote to pass.
  • Silence = consent. If a member chooses to abstain from voting, that member is giving his or her consent to the decision made by the group.
  • Everybody is equal. All voting members have equal rights. The majority rules but the minority has the right to be heard and to attempt to change the minds of the majority.

Make the Rules Meet Your Needs!

Because each group is different, parliamentary procedure is designed to be the basis for the rules, which groups can then adapt to their own needs. So in a deliberative assembly, you have the rules that are determined by your parliamentary authority, and you have the rules that are determined by your particular organization (bylaws, special rules, and so on, which I discuss in Chapter 4).

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