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Jenn

Odd Number of Members for a Committee

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Is there a reference in RONR indicating a committee must be composed of an odd number of members/participants, or is this an adopted custom across organizations?

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I'm not aware of anything in RONR about it, but I'm also not aware of it as an adopted custom across organizations. Some organizations might see some point to it. Personally, I don't - ties aren't bad, they just mean the motion fails, and I'm not sure that an odd number of members makes ties any less likely (absences, vacancies, abstentions, etc.).

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I agree with Mr. Katz's response, and will just add that there is one, very slight, advantage to having an odd number of members. If the quorum is a majority, as it usally is for a committee, an odd number makes it slightly easier to have a quorum than if ther membership were the next lower even numnber. For example, a majority (more than half) of four is three, as is a majority of five. So for a four-member committee, only one member may be absent to allow the committee to still hav e a quorum; but for a five-member committee, two members may be absent and the commitete will stilll have a quorum. But as I said, this is only a slight advantage, and a lot depends on how reliably the members can be expected to attend.  I wouldn't necessareilly use that as a major criterion for deciding how many members to appoint.

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6 hours ago, Jenn said:

Is there a reference in RONR indicating a committee must be composed of an odd number of members/participants, or is this an adopted custom across organizations?

Neither.  RONR certainly does not have any rule like this, and in my experience there is no widespread custom on it either. 

I don't think there is any advantage to an odd number.

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5 hours ago, Weldon Merritt said:

I agree with Mr. Katz's response, and will just add that there is one, very slight, advantage to having an odd number of members. If the quorum is a majority, as it usally is for a committee, an odd number makes it slightly easier to have a quorum than if ther membership were the next lower even numnber. For example, a majority (more than half) of four is three, as is a majority of five. So for a four-member committee, only one member may be absent to allow the committee to still hav e a quorum; but for a five-member committee, two members may be absent and the commitete will stilll have a quorum. But as I said, this is only a slight advantage, and a lot depends on how reliably the members can be expected to attend.  I wouldn't necessareilly use that as a major criterion for deciding how many members to appoint.

There's an advantage to having more members--with fifty members, 24 could be absent--but as you say, it's not a strong advantage to odd numbers.

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I agree with the previous comments, and especially with the observation by Mr. Merritt that having an odd number of members on a board or committee, such as 5 rather than 4, can make it easier to obtain a quorum.

I do occasionally hear laymen say that there should be an odd number of members on a board or committee.  Whenever I ask them for their reasoning, it seems to be based primarily on their erroneous presumption that tie votes should be avoided and that a tie vote somehow leaves things in limbo. Apparently a lot of people just don't understand that a motion fails on a tie vote.

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42 minutes ago, Richard Brown said:

Whenever I ask them for their reasoning, it seems to be based primarily on their erroneous presumption that tie votes should be avoided and that a tie vote somehow leaves things in limbo. Apparently a lot of people just don't understand that a motion fails on a tie vote.

I think there is also a psychological aspect to it as well.  To a lot of people (and to me to a certain extent) a tie vote just doesn't feel right because there should be a clear decision (either more people are in favor of the motion or more people are against it).  Having neither occur grates on our innate desire for certainty and an artificial declaration that a tie goes against the motion won't necessarily alleviate that "sticking point".

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Why is it artificial, though? There's a status quo, and a motion is an effort to change it, which requires a majority. I understand why it grates on the nerves if the decision comes from an entirely artificial rule (i.e. my entire middle school math career, which only made sense when I got to grad school), but I don't understand why this rule seems artificial.

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That is true though if you look at sports the game abhors a tie (and the rules governing how to deal with one are equally artificial).  In baseball a tie at the end of 9 innings means the game goes into extra innings until there is a winner (for example a game during the World Series that went for 18 innings), in hockey it goes into overtime then a shootout until there is a winner, basketball goes into overtime until there is a winner,  soccer goes into overtime and a shootout until there is a winner.  The only sport I can think of off the top of my head that actually allows for a tie (outside of unusual circumstances) is football (in which case neither team won or lost the game). 

 

I agree completely that in parliamentary procedure a tie should mean the motion is defeated otherwise there would be a continual vote until someone changes their mind or leaves the meeting.  However, if you were to ask the average person I suspect many of them would say to keep on voting until the tie is broken (or debate should be reopened to allow further discussion) in order to get a clear decision.

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1 hour ago, Chris Harrison said:

That is true though if you look at sports the game abhors a tie (and the rules governing how to deal with one are equally artificial).  In baseball a tie at the end of 9 innings means the game goes into extra innings until there is a winner (for example a game during the World Series that went for 18 innings), in hockey it goes into overtime then a shootout until there is a winner, basketball goes into overtime until there is a winner,  soccer goes into overtime and a shootout until there is a winner.  The only sport I can think of off the top of my head that actually allows for a tie (outside of unusual circumstances) is football (in which case neither team won or lost the game). 

 

Yes, but I share the intuition that a game shouldn't end in a tie, or at least that it's not desirable, but have no such intuition about the vote on a motion (as opposed to an election). I think the difference for me goes back to the presence of a status quo. There are artificial solutions in sports because we can't just say "in the event of a tie, the status quo stands" when it's a fight between equal outcomes, so to speak. In the case of a motion, not adopting it is privileged. Of course, we could break sports ties in simpler ways - home team wins, for instance - so the means of tie-breaking don't seem entirely arbitrary, since we're more likely to think sudden-death overtime is fair than "home team wins" or "high seed wins."

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