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Points of Order and vote requirements


JohnMMD
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In situations where a point of order concerning a voting rule is appealed to the assembly, does it make sense for such an appeal to require merely a majority vote? It would make sense to me that such an appeal should need a vote as per the minimum (if not the maximum) most-specific written rule concerning the vote being appealed, as understood by the assembly.

I find a difficulty here:  how do you handle the material facts of the rules in such a case?  One can cite the written rules, but the vote on the rule of order is on the interpretation of the rules, and is pointless if you can simply cite rules. One can cite historical understanding of the vote, but the assembly can essentially pretend to remember history differently.

You could take the nuclear option and suspend the vote until such time as the Board or an appropriate Committee can assemble evidence and create a defensible ruling, although then you have to deal with minority-owned committees creating a farce.

In some sense, this is the problem with all rules:  we can simply ignore them.

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7 minutes ago, JohnMMD said:

In situations where a point of order concerning a voting rule is appealed to the assembly, does it make sense for such an appeal to require merely a majority vote? It would make sense to me that such an appeal should need a vote as per the minimum (if not the maximum) most-specific written rule concerning the vote being appealed, as understood by the assembly.

I find a difficulty here:  how do you handle the material facts of the rules in such a case?  One can cite the written rules, but the vote on the rule of order is on the interpretation of the rules, and is pointless if you can simply cite rules. One can cite historical understanding of the vote, but the assembly can essentially pretend to remember history differently.

You could take the nuclear option and suspend the vote until such time as the Board or an appropriate Committee can assemble evidence and create a defensible ruling, although then you have to deal with minority-owned committees creating a farce.

In some sense, this is the problem with all rules:  we can simply ignore them.

The rules are, at least initially, in the control of the majority.

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Such an appeal should be ruled dilatory as there is second reasonable option.

Yes, yes, but if you appeal three times and put the question yourself...

Organizations are, in the end, groups of people who see value in combining efforts, assets, and other things, under an agreed upon set of rules.  They are like mini-states, except that membership is voluntary.  Sure, a sufficiently motivated majority can find its way around the rules - but then, you have a majority (at least of those present and voting) who, truth be told, no longer find it beneficial to be bound by these rules.  Either it is a temporary majority, in which case the minority should make use of such rules as reconsider and enter, or it is a true majority - in which case the minority, seeing itself trodden upon, should see its way out of the organization.  Now, remember that the whole point was a joining of efforts, assets, and other things for a common purpose.  The fact that the minority is capable of no longer contributing its efforts, assets, and other things, is itself a reason the majority should follow the rules.  If the majority finds that going around the rules is more beneficial, good for them - the minority is better off without them, and can go start their own organization with people who don't, in effect, steal from them.

Regarding the efforts the minority has already put in - it can be hard to recognize that one has wasted energy, but that is part of life.  Regarding the assets, the minority should try to find ways to withdraw those assets.  The rules might permit it, if they are being followed.  If not, the rules are, as discussed earlier, for those who choose to follow them.  For those who do not, there is litigation (and other forms of legally binding dispute resolution).  Just the threat is usually enough to dislodge the assets.

In brief, you're right, the rules can be ignored at will.  The point is that people who want to associate also want to follow the rules, because that's part of what it means to associate.

Edited to add:  By the way, this isn't unique to parliamentary procedure.  Why do Presidents, in command of the executive branch - also known as "the one with the guns" listen to courts?  While only one President has, to my knowledge, said "the Court has spoken, now let it enforce its words," more than one has behaved accordingly.  Most of the time, they listen - because they care about the rule of law.  Why does Congress, whose members can't just quit (well, they can, but not the constituencies they represent) follow parliamentary rules, consulting its parliamentarians regularly?  (For instance, the Senate Parliamentarian advised the Senate that the recent tax reform law could not be called the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," but rather "An act to provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018"  - that's not a very meaningful example, but it pops into my mind, and it was entirely unenforceable - the parliamentarian can only give advice, and there would be no particular political price to pay for ignoring such a rule.)  Again, because it is composed of people who, by and large, care to abide by the rules.  If you have a majority that doesn't, I agree, requirements for supermajorities, and other rules, will be ignored.

Edited by Joshua Katz
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You're right, of course.

There's an obvious problem in political theory called the Tyranny of the Majority.  In modern times, this has gotten us Gorsuch.  We can argue over the political merits of a heavily-conservative judge and gain no ground (and Gorsuch's most-famous action to date was to ignore a statement in a law claiming the law didn't apply to a thing, and apply it to that thing, so the problem of ignoring the rules because the rules let you do so is pervasive); yet one thing is clear:  Gorsuch was elected by a simple majority due to the type of point of order tomfoolery described above.

The Tyranny of the Majority is guarded against by many things, and the best we had at the time was a Supermajority:  three fifths must concur to prevent a momentary, slim grasp of power from making actions of long-term and extreme consequence.  Turns out there's no such thing as a Supermajority if your Majority can just force the rule out.  This must be a problem faced by all parliamentary organizations.

In a voting theory sense, we have other protections.  Proportional representation for multi-seat elections (single transferable vote), and Smith-set single-seat elections (Ranked Pairs).  The Smith Set is interesting:  it's the smallest set of candidates who each would win in a one-on-one election with any candidate not in the Smith Set.  When the Smith Set is one candidate, it's the Condorcet candidate, and represents the candidate by whom all are best served.

In a Yea or Nay vote, however, you have no protection.  You can't change the voting method to protect against the simple majority.  If the simple majority can violate any parliamentary rule, you have no protection against anything.

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It's not clear to me why varying the voting method solves the problem - the basic premise, it seems to me, of majority rule is "we could beat you up, so what say we skip it and just do what we want?"  At least, that's the case in political contexts.  In ordinary organizations, it seems, it has more logic to support it.  But in the political context, what stops the majority from simply refusing to seat people it doesn't want there?  What stops a multi-district majority, not enjoying a majority in particular districts, from just threatening civil war?

In any case, the point is, in the parliamentary context, we're there because we want to be, and because we want the organization to work.

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Perhaps.  I tend to think of rules as not simply means for order, but safeguards.  Parliamentary rules tend to focus on conducting meetings, and they go beyond that:  the business of an organization can shift wildly back and forth, damaging the organization.  Supermajority votes are a sort of method of order in the longer term operation of the organization:  they prevent it from changing its organizational goals or methods on a whim as small sets of opinion shift between the pluralities to create temporary majorities.

You can't change a binary voting method because there is only one:  threshold voting (majority, supermajority).  Election voting methods are different:  selecting between alternatives is a sort of negotiation of broad sets of conditions, and we can simulate that in interesting ways.

I come from a background where I attack things.  A lot.  I once suggested a method for getting a constitutional amendment passed with only 0.017% of the nation in favor, under the right conditions.  My first reaction to any weakness is to create an effective defense, and I can't find one here.

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4 minutes ago, JohnMMD said:

Perhaps.  I tend to think of rules as not simply means for order, but safeguards.  Parliamentary rules tend to focus on conducting meetings, and they go beyond that:  the business of an organization can shift wildly back and forth, damaging the organization.  Supermajority votes are a sort of method of order in the longer term operation of the organization:  they prevent it from changing its organizational goals or methods on a whim as small sets of opinion shift between the pluralities to create temporary majorities.

 

Well, I agree with that entirely - rules protect rights, including the right of the organization to stability.  The fact remains that they are for groups of people who care.  

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1 hour ago, JohnMMD said:

Perhaps.  I tend to think of rules as not simply means for order, but safeguards.  Parliamentary rules tend to focus on conducting meetings, and they go beyond that:  the business of an organization can shift wildly back and forth, damaging the organization.  Supermajority votes are a sort of method of order in the longer term operation of the organization:  they prevent it from changing its organizational goals or methods on a whim as small sets of opinion shift between the pluralities to create temporary majorities.

You can't change a binary voting method because there is only one:  threshold voting (majority, supermajority).  Election voting methods are different:  selecting between alternatives is a sort of negotiation of broad sets of conditions, and we can simulate that in interesting ways.

I come from a background where I attack things.  A lot.  I once suggested a method for getting a constitutional amendment passed with only 0.017% of the nation in favor, under the right conditions.  My first reaction to any weakness is to create an effective defense, and I can't find one here.

Parliamentary procedure provides no defense against the will of the majority, at least of the will  a majority of the entire membership.

I think you are reading toomuch into the role of the rules.  No set of rules can protect a society from itself. 

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14 hours ago, JohnMMD said:

In situations where a point of order concerning a voting rule is appealed to the assembly, does it make sense for such an appeal to require merely a majority vote?

Yes.

14 hours ago, JohnMMD said:

It would make sense to me that such an appeal should need a vote as per the minimum (if not the maximum) most-specific written rule concerning the vote being appealed, as understood by the assembly.

The question before the body upon appeal is whether the rule in question does, in fact, require the voting threshold in question. As a result, I see no reason to alter the voting threshold for the appeal based upon a presumption of what the rule requires.

14 hours ago, JohnMMD said:

I find a difficulty here:  how do you handle the material facts of the rules in such a case?  One can cite the written rules, but the vote on the rule of order is on the interpretation of the rules, and is pointless if you can simply cite rules. One can cite historical understanding of the vote, but the assembly can essentially pretend to remember history differently.

 You could take the nuclear option and suspend the vote until such time as the Board or an appropriate Committee can assemble evidence and create a defensible ruling, although then you have to deal with minority-owned committees creating a farce.

 In some sense, this is the problem with all rules:  we can simply ignore them.

RONR assumes that the members of the society (or at least most of them) are honorable people who will act in good faith on the appeal, using it to legitimately determine what the rule means, rather than using it as a way to ignore the rules to suit their own purposes.

If this assumption is incorrect for a particular assembly, it should be no surprise that the assembly will have all sorts of problems, but that isn’t RONR’s fault.

14 hours ago, JohnMMD said:

Yes.  My point is that the majority has the capacity to eliminate such silly things as requiring a 2/3 or 3/4 vote to amend Bylaws, for example, by simply raising the point of order, then appealing to the floor when a simple majority wishes to amend the Bylaws.  What is the defense against this?

There is no parliamentary defense. You could seek legal counsel, or perhaps leave the society and join societies with more honorable people.

12 hours ago, JohnMMD said:

If the simple majority can violate any parliamentary rule, you have no protection against anything.

Well, we haven’t yet figured out a way for the book to magically enforce the rules itself, so this is the best alternative in the interim. :)

It is of course, absolutely not proper for the body to ignore its rules, but there is ultimately no way to prevent them from doing so. Ultimately, someone has to make the decisions on interpreting the assembly’s rules. I would rather that it be the majority. This seems preferable to the possibility of a minority or a single member (such as the chair) abusing his power.

In some cases, there may be legal recourse, but that is beyond the scope of this forum.

Edited by Josh Martin
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12 hours ago, JohnMMD said:

There's an obvious problem in political theory called the Tyranny of the Majority.  In modern times, this has gotten us Gorsuch.  We can argue over the political merits of a heavily-conservative judge and gain no ground (and Gorsuch's most-famous action to date was to ignore a statement in a law claiming the law didn't apply to a thing, and apply it to that thing, so the problem of ignoring the rules because the rules let you do so is pervasive); yet one thing is clear:  Gorsuch was elected by a simple majority due to the type of point of order tomfoolery described above.

Well, this is waaay outside the scope of this message board (as is the bulk of this entire thread), but I agree entirely that the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, under the leadership of Mr. Harry Reid, set a horrible precedent of allowing the majority to invent new rules by means of a vote on an appeal from the decision of the chair. But the Senate is an institution that reveres its traditions, so I suppose the Republicans had little choice but to follow suit.

(Now, under the totally undemocratic rules of this message board, the moderators get the final say on this topic.)

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