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Vote called; then quorum is broken; may vote proceed?

Guest Chris Wold

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I am a law professor doing research concerning the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a body that is known to be quite dysfunctional. A routine aspect of IWC meetings is for a group of countries to walk out of a meeting to break quorum. My question is this: if the chair has already put a question to a vote, can members break quorum by walking out of the room?

My question appears to run up against two rules of procedure, at least as described in Robert's Rules of Order (the IWC's rules do not address the matter). The first rule is that quorum can be broken at any time and business can no longer be conducted. That suggests that the vote may not proceed. The second rule, however, provides that votes are not to be interrupted unless by a relevant point of order. Under this scenario, the members walking out of the room still count towards quorum, but they are, in effect, abstaining from the vote.

I have searched Robert's Rules for assistance but I can't seem to find anything directly on point. Any help that you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

thank you,

Chris Wold


Chris Wold

Professor of Law & Director

International Environmental Law Project

Lewis& Clark Law School

10015 SW Terwilliger Blvd.

Portland, OR 97219 USA

TEL +1-503-768-6734

FX +1-503-768-6671

E-mail: wold@lclark.edu


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It does seem that the Chair's hands are tied if he has already put the question and then there is a mass exodus while the vote is being taken since RONR p. 349 ll. 11-13 says that it is his duty to declare that fact "at least before taking any vote or stating the question on any new motion" which seems to imply that he can't do so after the voting has started. However, ll. 16-19 on the same page do say that a member can raise a Point of Order at any point. So I think that the Chair if a member could raise the Point of Order even if the vote was ongoing. But stick around for other opinions.

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Guest_Chris Said:

"The second rule, however, provides that votes are not to be interrupted unless by a relevant point of order"

Not quite: p. 408 is specific that there are no interruptions during voting (other than ballot voting) -- any "point of order" problems relating to the voting can, and must, be raised immediately after the results are announced. pp. 250-251.

But your main point - can a vote be invalidated if members walk out and break the quorum during the actual casting of votes, or the calling for ayes and nays, is an interesting one.

One thing: it would be hard to prove that actually happened, unless the quorum was really broken badly, and very few stayed behind.

Clearly, if the walkout is completed before the first vote is cast, then raising a "no quorum" point might well be proper. But this may raise a "by your bootstraps" sort of problem, since raising a quorum question could be considered a piece of business and hence would itself be improper. A point of order is not listed as one of the proper parliamentary steps under the "What you can do" list on p. 347. But, OTOH, an absence of a quorum is NOT assumed until it has been observed and pointed out by someone (p. 349, line 9). So that makes the "pointing out" action proper. Thus no bootstrap problem. Whew! That was close.

But it still leaves it up to the chair to do his "duty" (p. 349, line 12) and stop all proceedings.

If the walkout took place during actual voting the "no quorum" point could be raised (ignoring the bootstrap problem) after the last vote was cast to stop the chair from declaring the outcome of the vote -- that declaration is a piece of business, after all.

Another problem -- unfortunately yours, Professor, not ours nor RONR's -- is that the IWC may have rules in place that supersede RONR's (or the IWC may never have adopted RONR, or even heard of it-?) and those rules may not be as subtly nuanced as RONR's rules are.

Good Luck!

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Faced with a similar situation, I think I would rule that, once the voting process had begun, it could not be started, and a member deliberately leaving to cause the assembly to lose quorum during a vote was merely exercising their right not to vote, and that sufficient members were present and given the choice to exercise their right to vote that the quorum should be considered to be maintained during the vote. As soon as that's completed, of course, the meeting would be unable to proceed without a quorum.

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I recall we had almost this exact discussion on the Advanced list not long ago, but in that case the vote was by roll call. We do not seem to know how the vote here was taken.

I would tend to agree with those who say that the vote cannot be interrupted, even by a point of order, once begun, but I think the later (but still timely) point of order that a quorum was not present would be easier to sustain in the case of a roll-call vote if less then a quorum had been recorded as present. If voting was by ballot, then someone leaving the polling place could, in my view, be properly considered to have abstained.

However, it will not be my own view, but rather that of (a majority of) the International Whaling Commission that matters.

(I would also note that any whaling commission's dysfunction is arguably inherent, if for no other reason than that, even when functioning properly, its function involves whaling. But that's another matter.)

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No. These members of the commission are not voting. They are purposefully leaving the meeting to break quorum, block a vote, and disrupt the meeting.



Well, for a roll-call vote, RONR suggests that the secretary should record enough voters as "Present" to establish that a quorum was present, if the total of the yeas and nays would not be sufficient to do that.

But for a show of hands, it seems to me that the vote could be completed before enough people could make it out the door.

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