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When the chair disregards the rules


Guest Bob
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There is an upcoming meeting of a political organization. There will be a vote on an amendment to the bylaws. The issue is very, very contentious.

The chairman of the organization sent an "absentee ballot" to members, with a place for them to indicate their vote and sign their name. He favors passage of the amendment, which would give him more power.

There is a provision in the bylaws allowing for absentee ballots, but only at conventions, and only when voting for candidates for office, and only when the absentee ballot is notarized. None of these conditions are met in this case. The chair has done the absentee scheme so he can collect pieces of paper in advance, get the vote locked in, and avoid any real debate.

The chair may not know that his absentee scheme isn't allowed by the rules, but during the meetings he has no regard for the rules anyway. We will raise a point of order, and he will overrule it. We could appeal to the body, but he will declare it out of order, and he will have a lawyer there to declare that we're wrong. He'll proceed with the vote and tell us to sue him. There is an outside chance that we can get some of the attendees angry about this.

What recourse do we have?

What Robert's Rules can we cite to persuade those in the room that the vote is no good?

And here's a legal question: if this does end up in court, what kinds of things do we need to do during the meeting to establish a record that would be helpful to our lawyer?

(The bylaws do say that Robert's Rules apply.)

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3 minutes ago, Guest Bob said:

There is a provision in the bylaws allowing for absentee ballots, but only at conventions, and only when voting for candidates for office, and only when the absentee ballot is notarized. None of these conditions are met in this case. The chair has done the absentee scheme so he can collect pieces of paper in advance, get the vote locked in, and avoid any real debate.

 

Is there any reason to think absentees will be more favorably inclined than those who attend?

3 minutes ago, Guest Bob said:

 The chair may not know that his absentee scheme isn't allowed by the rules, but during the meetings he has no regard for the rules anyway. We will raise a point of order, and he will overrule it. We could appeal to the body, but he will declare it out of order, and he will have a lawyer there to declare that we're wrong. He'll proceed with the vote and tell us to sue him. There is an outside chance that we can get some of the attendees angry about this.

 

Well, you can always get a new president, or quit. The presence of a lawyer telling you you're wrong (about what? RONR is pretty clear than an appeal is usually in order) is meaningless so far as parliamentary procedure is concerned. You are correct that the right way to approach this is to line up support before the meeting.

That said, I'm not exactly sure what the best thing to do is here, from a "best practices" standpoint. You are right - if absentee ballots are not allowed, they shouldn't be counted. However, that creates some unfairness - people will reasonably decide not to attend based on the ballots they received, and it's not exactly fair to mislead them. My opinion would be that, ideally, the vote should not be held at this meeting, so that the situation can be clarified.

Should it come down to it, RONR contains a procedure for removing the chair. Note that it tends to be, to put it mildly, disruptive.

7 minutes ago, Guest Bob said:

 What Robert's Rules can we cite to persuade those in the room that the vote is no good?

 

I mean, RONR says absentee votes are only permitted if permitted by the bylaws, so really, the fight is about your bylaws. 

 

15 minutes ago, Guest Bob said:

 And here's a legal question: if this does end up in court, what kinds of things do we need to do during the meeting to establish a record that would be helpful to our lawyer?

 

We can't answer this (or, at least, we won't). Your lawyer can, though.

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Guest Who's Coming to Dinner
On 7/23/2018 at 8:31 AM, Guest Bob said:

We could appeal to the body, but he will declare it out of order, and he will have a lawyer there to declare that we're wrong. He'll proceed with the vote and tell us to sue him. There is an outside chance that we can get some of the attendees angry about this.

You may repeat the ignored Appeal twice, and, if seconded all three times, put the appeal directly to the members and take the vote yourself.

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