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Why the right hand?


Guest Andy R.

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When members vote by raising their hands, is it necessary that they raise their right hand? Is there a procedural reason, or is it just tradition?

There is no rule in RONR specifying that any hand be raised.

In one organization of which I am a member, raising the right hand is used for affirmative votes, while the left is used for negative votes. That is established in the rules of that organization.

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In one organization of which I am a member, raising the right hand is used for affirmative votes, while the left is used for negative votes. That is established in the rules of that organization.

So if they raise their right hand when voting against the motion (or their left when voting for it) is their vote thrown out? :unsure:

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So if they raise their right hand when voting against the motion (or their left when voting for it) is their vote thrown out? :unsure:

It would not be considered a legal vote. I don't think that I am revealing any secrets when I note that it is the Knights Templar. :) It is a very ritualistic and tradition bound organization that, in my area, does not use RONR.

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Would you have to change an organization's bylaws to allow members to raise either their right hand or the left hand if RONR is the parliamentary procedure adopted by the body?

No, not unless they specified that only the right hand was to be used for voting. I was going to post what I hoped would be a somewhat facetious question as to whether suspend the rules would be required to vote using the left hand (or either hand) :rolleyes: , but if the question actually came up, I think this is where unanimous consent earns its keep.

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I apologize for my failure to note previously the continuing, apparently discriminatory preference for "right" over "left" found in RONRIB on page 71, and in Table A, page 189). :)

All kidding aside, however, there is a great deal to be said for consistency in the wording used by presiding officers, and in this connection I commend to you the advice found in Chapter 15 of RONRIB, especially steps 1 and 3 under "A, Six Steps to Effective Presiding" (pp. 136-41).

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In an assembly where the chair can't see everyone clearly, specifying the hand to use might serve to prevent double votes, but I would venture that if such a rule is required, your assembly is too large to effectively vote by show of hands anyway.

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Guest Edgar

I think the bylaws should require raising the left hand so that, when a member incorrectly raises his right hand, the chair can admonish him for not raising the right hand. Hilarity, of the "Who's on first" variety, ensues.

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"When members vote by raising their hands, is it necessary that they raise their right hand? Is there a procedural reason, or is it just tradition?"

As Dan has pointed out, RONR 11th edition and RONR In Brief specify the right hand ("“raise the right hand”"). Consistency is important so voters aren't (so) confused, but consistency doesn't answer why RONR specifies "right" instead of "left."

The first edition (1876) of Robert's Rules also specified the right hand: "those in favor of its adoption will hold up the right hand; those opposed will manifest it by the same sign."

Cushings Manual also specified the right hand. I'm unsure if the 1845 1st edition did, but later ones did.

But Jefferson's Manual (1801, 1812) doesn't. However, his document was focused on congressional procedures, rather than the local club.

Speculating on why it got started to raise the right instead of the left hand, (1) it may be due to more people being right-handed, or (2) it may be related to symbolic power (the more honored position was to be at the king's right hand; after Jesus ascended to heaven he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, per Hebrews 12:2 etc). These two reasons may be related. Also, witnesses in court have historically placed their right hand on the Bible to swear to tell the truth.

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Guest Edgar

The first edition (1876) of Robert's Rules also specified the right hand: "those in favor of its adoption will hold up the right hand; those opposed will manifest it by the same sign."

At last! A citation for the occasional "same sign" questions that appear here (such as this classic).

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Anyone who has covered the topic of voting by show of hands during a training seminar will without doubt have encountered participants who jokingly lift both hands, which is a great segue for disseminating the benefits of using the language in RONR to dissuade such behavior.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I think they'd place their left on the bible, and raise the right.

Good point. That method was popularized by Harper Lee's 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird. But as far back as 1804, A history of the College of arms, and the lives of all the kings records how an underling would swear loyalty to his king "his right hand on the Bible."

And the 1804 An abstract of those laws of the United States which relate chiefly to the duties and authority of the judges of the inferior state courts says, "The witness having laid his right hand on the Bible or New-Testament, then kisses the same."

The later left-hand-on-the-Bible-and-raised-right-hand practice also suggests a key role of the right hand, however.

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