For most of us, making a point of order in a meeting is accurately described as “gutsy.” (Definitely not in the list of “Top 10 Things I Must Do Before I Die.”) So, if you get up the nerve to actually make a point of order, and then the Chair doesn’t like it, what are your options? Hint: The answer is not to whip out your pocket microphone and yell, “Point of order!” a little louder.
What is a point of order?
- A point of order is a way to draw attention to a parliamentary procedure mistake.
- A point of order is not a vehicle to inform everyone at the meeting of your views about the motion that is on the floor. That’s just debate.
- A point of order is also not a way to impress everyone with your expert-level parliamentary procedure knowledge. That’s just annoying.
- Points of order are best reserved for mistakes of consequence related to members’ basic rights to be informed, to discuss, and to vote.
- A point of order is made by saying, “Point of order,” and then being prepared to state the parliamentary procedure rule that you believe is being ignored or broken.
- Points of order don’t require recognition by the Chair. A point of order can be made at any time during a meeting and may interrupt other business.
What happens after you make a point of order?
- When you say, “Point of order,” the Chair should respond, “State your point of order.” That’s your cue to identify the parliamentary procedure rule that’s being broken.
- Example: You could say, “Madam Chair, the rules say that there is no discussion on the motion to close debate and you just asked for discussion.”
- Once you state the rule that’s been broken, the Chair should respond by saying either, “Your point is well taken,” or, “Your point is not well taken.” If your point is “well taken,” that means you’re right and the Chair messed up. The Chair should then fix her mistake. If your point is “not well taken,” that means that the Chair is right and you’re wrong. There is no mistake that needs to be fixed.
What happens if the Chair says your point of order is not well taken?
- If the Chair says that your point of order is not well taken and you think the Chair is right, you can simply sit down and be proud that you knew how to make a point of order and had the guts to do it!
- But if the Chair says that your point of order is not well taken, and you think the Chair is still wrong, you can appeal the Chair’s decision by saying, “I appeal the Chair’s decision.”
- Once you say those words appealing the decision, the Chair should ask if anyone would like to second your appeal. If there is a second, the Chair should say, “The Chair’s decision has been appealed.”
- The Chair should then ask if there is discussion on the appeal. This is the time when you get to elaborate and give all the reasons that you think you’re right about the parliamentary procedure mistake you’ve identified as a point of order. Other people can chime in too.
- One special note: Normally, you would get to speak twice on every motion that’s on the floor. But on appeals, each person gets to speak only once, except for the Chair. The Chair gets to speak twice. In other words, the Chair gets to defend herself, hear your arguments, and then speak again to respond to them.
- Once there’s no one else that wants to speak on the issue, the Chair should ask the group to vote: “All those in favor of upholding the Chair’s decision, say ‘aye.’ All those opposed to upholding the Chair’s decision, say ‘no.’” As long as there are a majority of people that want to uphold the Chair’s decision, then her decision stands. If not, then your view prevails.
I’ll close with a bit of encouragement to each party involved in a point of order situation. I positioned this post as a how-to for the individual making a point of order—lauding that person’s bravery and explaining the appeals process, should that be necessary. Don’t be afraid to speak up if needed.
But I also want to remind the Chair of the humility it takes to admit you were wrong. Just know that it’s okay—we all make mistakes, and it shows a different kind of bravery to publicly receive a member’s point of order and correct your misstep or allow a vote when your decision is appealed.
And for the rest of you observing all this, let’s recall the underlying principle of the appeals process I outlined: In parliamentary procedure, a vote allows you to support what you believe is right. You get a voice. So, if there’s a point of order appeal, pay attention and participate!