Can You Kill a Motion by Moving To Table It?

If you’ve ever attended a meeting and heard someone say, “I move to table this motion” (or you’ve said it yourself), today’s post is for you. Maybe you’ve said these words in hopes that doing so would “kill” the main motion. Or perhaps you’re completely new to this whole idea and are thinking, “What does that even mean? Are we inviting the motion to join us for dinner?”

Actually, tabling a motion doesn’t mean either of these things. Read on to learn four common misconceptions about the motion to Table.

Misconception 1: Adopting the motion to Table will “kill” the main motion. 

False. The motion to Table is a motion to set the main motion aside temporarily.

If visuals help you, picture the main motion as a piece of paper, and the table as a physical dining table. A motion to Table simply means that the piece of paper will be placed on the table for a bit. The paper isn’t thrown away. It doesn’t otherwise disappear. It’s not “killed.” No, it’s sitting on that table, and anyone can move to pick it back up off the table and keep considering it by making another motion—the motion to Take from the Table—as long as they make that motion in the current meeting or the next regular meeting, and as long as that next meeting isn’t more than three months in the future.

I’ll post more on the motion to Take from the Table another day, but the takeaway is this: A motion to Table is not a motion to “kill.” If you want to actually “kill” a main motion—meaning you want to remove any possibility that it can come back for more discussion or a vote at this meeting—you should say a different set of words: “I move to postpone the motion indefinitely.” 

Misconception 2: The motion to Table can be made for any reason. 

Not true. The motion to Table can be made only when there is a different topic that has “immediate urgency.” I put “immediate urgency” in quotation marks because those are the words that Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised actually uses. The point here is that the motion to Table is meant for situations where a main motion is being considered and an event occurs that requires an interruption in that motion’s consideration, or where it becomes apparent that another topic/issue needs to be addressed before consideration of the main motion can continue.

Here are two examples of situations of “immediate urgency” which might necessitate the use of the motion to Table: the arrival of a special speaker or the need for a report from a specific person or group.

In contrast, the motion to Table is decidedly not meant for a situation where an individual wants to simply “kill” or sidestep a topic. If that’s the intent, again, your motion choice is the motion to Postpone Indefinitely. 

Misconception 3: The motion to Table is debatable. 

No. Once the motion to Table is made, it must be voted on immediately. No debate is permitted.

Misconception 4: The motion to Table requires a two-thirds vote for adoption. 

False. The motion to Table requires a majority of the votes cast for adoption, not two-thirds.

What’s the rationale here?

Part of the genius of parliamentary procedure is the way in which rules work together to protect the fundamental rights of members. When you consider (1) the purpose of a motion to Table—to postpone a motion temporarily because of a matter of “immediate urgency,” (2) the fact that it is not debatable, and (3) the fact that only a majority vote is required—it makes sense that this motion is not the way to “kill” a motion permanently…. Because using a motion to Table to completely eliminate a main motion from any consideration would dishonor the rights of a minority by allowing that motion to be “killed” in one immediate decision without debate. Giving members this kind of power runs contrary to the foundational rights of members according to parliamentary procedure.