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Suspended Voting Rules

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The requirement for suspending the rules can be greater than the usual two-thirds vote if the rule to be suspended protects a minority of one third or fewer: “no rule protecting a minority of a particular size can be suspended in the face of a negative vote as large as the minority protected by the rule” (RONR [10th ed.], p. 253, l. 8-10).

An important example of a rule that protects a minority of one third or fewer is a requirement, which would usually be defined in the bylaws or a special rule of order (p. 391, l. 20-25), of a greater than two-thirds vote for the adoption of a given motion. A rule requiring a three-fourths vote, for example, protects a minority of slightly more than one fourth by giving that minority the power to defeat the motion. A negative vote of more than one fourth is therefore sufficient to keep such a rule from being suspended.

But the converse—that a three-fourths vote is necessary to suspend the rule—does not follow. The reason is that, in a ballot vote on the suspension of such a rule, illegal votes have the same effect as affirmative votes (provided there are at least two thirds in the affirmative). The motion to suspend the rules is adopted if and only if the sum of the affirmative and illegal votes is greater than or equal to three times the number of negative votes, regardless of how many affirmative votes there are (provided there are at least two thirds in the affirmative).

Question (1): What is the best way to specify the number of votes necessary to suspend a rule requiring a three-fourths vote, whether or not the vote on suspending the rule is by ballot?

In addition to “the proportion that must concur” (p. 389, l. 24), a voting basis includes “the set of members to which the proportion applies” (p. 389, l. 25-26). A requirement of a vote of three fourths of the members present for the adoption of a given motion gives slightly more than one fourth of the members present the power to defeat the motion and, with their negative vote, to keep the voting requirement from being suspended.

It does not follow, however, that a vote of three fourths of the members present is necessary to suspend such a rule. The reason is that both abstentions and (in a ballot vote) illegal votes have the same effect as affirmative votes in such a case (provided there are at least two thirds in the affirmative).

Question (2): What is the best way to specify the number of votes necessary to suspend a rule requiring a vote of three fourths of the members present, whether or not the vote on suspending the rule is by ballot?

If the rule to be suspended embodies an unusually low voting threshold, e.g., “a vote of one fifth of the members present” (p. 43, l. 22-23), the underlying situation is the same. Even though the power of the minority in such a case involves adopting rather than defeating a motion, the protection of a small minority is still at issue. (The protection of any group greater than one third is ensured by the minimum requirement of a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules.)

A different kind of question, however, arises in the case of a motion to suspend a rule requiring a majority vote and to require instead a vote of, say, one fifth of the members present. Because the rule being suspended protects no minority of one third or fewer, its suspension presumably requires a two-thirds vote. But the unusual leniency of the new voting basis raises a paradox of sovereignty regarding a large majority:

Question (3): Do two thirds of the members present and voting have the power to tie their own hands, so to speak, and prevent even four fifths of the members present from defeating a motion?

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I don't know why you're stressing out so much over the effect of illegal votes. Firstly, it would be highly unusual to vote on the incidental motion to Suspend the Rules by ballot. Secondly, it's pretty hard to cast an illegal vote when your options are "Yes" or "No" unless you're either trying to cheat (folding two ballots together) or are unable to write a two to three letter word legibly.

I also have no idea where you're getting the idea that abstentions or illegal votes would have the effect of affirmative votes. Let's do some quick examples:

Vote threshold: 3/4 of members present and voting

Yes votes: 75

No votes: 25

Votes cast: 100

Since 75 is 3/4 of 100, the motion passes.

Vote threshold: 3/4 of members present and voting

Yes votes: 75

No votes: 25

Illegal votes: 5

Votes cast: 105

Since 75 is less than 3/4 of 105, the motion fails.

Vote threshold: 3/4 of members present:

Members present: 100

Yes votes: 75

No votes: 25

Since 75 is 3/4 of 100, the motion passes.

Vote threshold: 3/4 of members present

Members present: 100

Yes votes: 60

No votes: 25

Illegal votes: 5

Abstentions: 10

Since 60 is less than 3/4 of 100, the motion fails.

The only thing I can think of is that you're referring to the instances in which RONR refers to calculating a 2/3 vote by determining if there are at least twice as many votes in the affirmative as in the negative. This isn't a definition of a 2/3 vote, it's just a quick way to determine it, but this strategy only works if the voting threshold is based on the number of members present and voting and there are no illegal votes.

Question (1): What is the best way to specify the number of votes necessary to suspend a rule requiring a three-fourths vote, whether or not the vote on suspending the rule is by ballot?

A 3/4 vote of the members present and voting. Since illegal votes count toward the number of ballots cast, they will actually have the same effect as negative votes in such a case.

Question (2): What is the best way to specify the number of votes necessary to suspend a rule requiring a vote of three fourths of the members present, whether or not the vote on suspending the rule is by ballot?

A 3/4 vote of the members present. Both illegal votes and abstentions will have the effect of negative votes in such a case.

A different kind of question, however, arises in the case of a motion to suspend a rule requiring a majority vote and to require instead a vote of, say, one fifth of the members present. Because the rule being suspended protects no minority of one third or fewer, its suspension presumably requires a two-thirds vote. Question (3): Do two thirds of the members present and voting have the power to tie their own hands, so to speak, and prevent even four fifths of the members present from defeating a motion?

The rules may not be suspended in order to lower a voting threshold to less than a majority. The rule that a rule cannot be suspended in the face of a minority at least as large as the rule protects is not the only rule in play here. See RONR, 10th ed., pg. 392, lines 2-6.

Edited by Josh Martin

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But the converse—that a three-fourths vote is necessary to suspend the rule—does not follow. The reason is that, in a ballot vote on the suspension of such a rule, illegal votes have the same effect as affirmative votes (provided there are at least two thirds in the affirmative). The motion to suspend the rules is adopted if and only if the sum of the affirmative and illegal votes is greater than or equal to three times the number of negative votes, regardless of how many affirmative votes there are (provided there are at least two thirds in the affirmative).

An illegal ballot vote (presuming that's even possible on a Yes/No ballot) has the same effect as a negative vote, in exactly the same way as an abstention on a vote "of the members present" has the same effect as a No vote. By increasing the number of votes cast without increasing the number in the affirmative, it has the effect of increasing the number not in agreement.

Any vote that cannot be suspended in the face of a negative vote larger than one fourth cannot be suspended in the face of any vote having that same effect.

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Apropos of Question (1) above, here’s the sort of case I have in mind:

A special rule of order requires a three-fourths vote on a given motion. The immediately pending motion is to suspend that rule. A ballot vote on suspending the rule is ordered, with the following results:

Number of votes cast.................................100

Necessary for adoption..................................?

Votes for motion..........................................74

Votes against...............................................25

Illegal Votes

One ballot containing two votes, rejected.......1

The motion to suspend the rule is adopted, because there are two thirds in the affirmative, and because the negative vote is not as large as the minority protected by the rule (a minority of 26 in this case). Given that a three-fourths vote is not in fact necessary to suspend the rule, what is the number of votes “necessary for adoption”?

The illegal vote does in fact have the same effect as an affirmative vote, because the motion to suspend the rule would have been adopted with a vote of 75-25 but not with a vote of 74-26.

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Apropos of Question (1) above, here’s the sort of case I have in mind:

A special rule of order requires a three-fourths vote on a given motion. The immediately pending motion is to suspend that rule. A ballot vote on suspending the rule is ordered, with the following results:

Number of votes cast.................................100

Necessary for adoption..................................?

Votes for motion..........................................74

Votes against...............................................25

Illegal Votes

One ballot containing two votes, rejected.......1

The motion to suspend the rule is adopted, because there are two thirds in the affirmative, and because the negative vote is not as large as the minority protected by the rule (a minority of 26 in this case). Given that a three-fourths vote is not in fact necessary to suspend the rule, what is the number of votes “necessary for adoption”?

The illegal vote does in fact have the same effect as an affirmative vote, because the motion to suspend the rule would have been adopted with a vote of 75-25 but not with a vote of 74-26.

Your premise is faulty. A rule requiring a three-fourths vote cannot be suspended by anything less than a three-fourths vote. 74 is less than 3/4 of 100, so the rule is not suspended. The illegal vote has the same efffect as a negative vote.

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Given that a three-fourths vote is not in fact necessary to suspend the rule

Yes it is. The number of votes necessary for adoption in the example you provide is 75.

I have always understood that the method to ensure that a motion shall never be adopted to suspend a rule in the face of a minority as large as is protected by the rule is to raise the voting threshold accordingly. I think you have adequately demonstrated why doing it the other way (keeping a voting threshold of 2/3 and simply looking at the vote totals after the fact) is fraught with problems, at least in the unusual circumstance in which an assembly is voting on such a motion by ballot and there are a sizable number of illegal votes in comparison to the margin of success or failure. :)

I should also point out again, that while it is in order to suspend a rule regarding a voting threshold, I remain of the opinion that there is very rarely any legitimate reason to do so.

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Apropos of Question (1) above, here’s the sort of case I have in mind:

A special rule of order requires a three-fourths vote on a given motion. The immediately pending motion is to suspend that rule. A ballot vote on suspending the rule is ordered, with the following results:

Number of votes cast.................................100

Necessary for adoption..................................?

Votes for motion..........................................74

Votes against...............................................25

Illegal Votes

One ballot containing two votes, rejected.......1

The motion to suspend the rule is adopted, because there are two thirds in the affirmative, and because the negative vote is not as large as the minority protected by the rule (a minority of 26 in this case). Given that a three-fourths vote is not in fact necessary to suspend the rule, what is the number of votes “necessary for adoption”?

The illegal vote does in fact have the same effect as an affirmative vote, because the motion to suspend the rule would have been adopted with a vote of 75-25 but not with a vote of 74-26.

But nowhere is that assertion actually "given". In fact, a three-fourths vote is necessary. The illegal vote has the same effect as a negative vote.

You correctly calculate at the end that 74 votes are not enough to carry the motion. The question mark should be replaced with the number 75, since a rule requiring a 3/4 vote cannot be suspended by less than a 3/4 vote.

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I should also point out again, that while it is in order to suspend a rule regarding a voting threshold, I remain of the opinion that there is very rarely any legitimate reason to do so.

Indeed, since the same effect can be achieved by not suspending the rule, and simply voting according to the rule, and since both require the same number of votes, suspending the rule would arguably be dilatory, or at the very least frivolous.

The proscription against suspending a voting requirement by anything less than that voting requirement is not, in my view, included in RONR as an invitation to some absurd parliamentary acrobatics, so much as it is an illustration of how pointless it would be to attempt them.

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Indeed, since the same effect can be achieved by not suspending the rule, and simply voting according to the rule, and since both require the same number of votes, suspending the rule would arguably be dilatory, or at the very least frivolous.

Well, I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but yes, I suspect that in most cases, the desired result can be accomplished through simple negotiation and possible use of the motion to Reconsider.

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Most importantly: thanks to all of you for helping me work through these questions. I appreciate your volunteered time and expert assistance.

I’m unsure, though, why a rule that requires a three-fourths vote for the adoption of a given motion would require a three-fourths vote for its own suspension. The only cases I know of in which the suspension of a rule requires more than a two-thirds vote are cases in which the rule protects a minority of one third or less.

When a rule requires a three-fourths vote for the adoption of a given motion and 100 votes are cast, the protected minority, i.e., the minority with the power to defeat the motion, is 26 rather than 25. The rule cannot be suspended, therefore, in the face of a negative vote of 26. With 25 or fewer in the negative, the minority-protection clause on p. 253, l. 8-10 doesn’t apply, and the usual requirement of a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules remains in force. A vote of 74-25 easily meets this latter requirement.

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Most importantly: thanks to all of you for helping me work through these questions. I appreciate your volunteered time and expert assistance.

I’m unsure, though, why a rule that requires a three-fourths vote for the adoption of a given motion would require a three-fourths vote for its own suspension. The only cases I know of in which the suspension of a rule requires more than a two-thirds vote are cases in which the rule protects a minority of one third or less.

When a rule requires a three-fourths vote for the adoption of a given motion and 100 votes are cast, the protected minority, i.e., the minority with the power to defeat the motion, is 26 rather than 25. The rule cannot be suspended, therefore, in the face of a negative vote of 26. With 25 or fewer in the negative, the minority-protection clause on p. 253, l. 8-10 doesn’t apply, and the usual requirement of a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules remains in force. A vote of 74-25 easily meets this latter requirement.

I’m unsure, though, why a rule that requires a three-fourths vote for the adoption of a given motion would require a three-fourths vote for its own suspension.

Such a rule protects a minority of any number greater than one-fourth of the members present. See RONR (10th ed.), p. 253, ll. 8-10; Off. Interp. 2006-18, second paragraph of the answer.

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I’m unsure, though, why a rule that requires a three-fourths vote for the adoption of a given motion would require a three-fourths vote for its own suspension. The only cases I know of in which the suspension of a rule requires more than a two-thirds vote are cases in which the rule protects a minority of one third or less.

When a rule requires a three-fourths vote for the adoption of a given motion and 100 votes are cast, the protected minority, i.e., the minority with the power to defeat the motion, is 26 rather than 25. The rule cannot be suspended, therefore, in the face of a negative vote of 26. With 25 or fewer in the negative, the minority-protection clause on p. 253, l. 8-10 doesn’t apply, and the usual requirement of a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules remains in force. A vote of 74-25 easily meets this latter requirement.

Because trying to do it your way is too confusing and causes illegal votes (and in some cases, abstentions) to do weird things. :)

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