Wooden figures; one holding poster with “x.” facing rest of figures; parliamentary motion; bad idea

What To Do If You Think a Main Motion Is a Bad Idea

Raise your hand if you’ve ever sat in a meeting and wondered what to do about a motion on the floor that is poorly worded, a bad idea because the timing is wrong, or simply a bad idea all together. Obviously, voting against such a motion is always an option, but that option only works if enough other members see the problems and also vote against it. So—good news! There are other options available to you that may be more strategic and ultimately more successful in dealing with a not-so-great motion.

Here’s a scenario: At the homeowners association board meeting, Sam Stickler says, “I move that the association charge homeowners $150 for putting up their Halloween yard decorations before October 25 or for taking them down after November 1.” This seems a bit unreasonable to you, but you’re not sure you can persuade enough of the other members to vote it down—so, here are your options. (P.S. Each option for dealing with a problematic motion is itself a motion.)

Option 1: Amend the motion to weaken it.

If you think a main motion is a bad idea, you should feel free to amend it. There are two ways to do this:

  • An amendment can attempt to improve the main motion and help its effectiveness if passed.
  • Or, an amendment can attempt to weaken the main motion and lower the chances that it will be adopted.

Example of amending the above motion to weaken it: “I move to amend by striking $150 and inserting $250.”

Making an amendment that weakens the main motion can also be a way to test the voting power in the room because the vote on the amendment can serve as an indicator of how certain individuals will vote on the main motion.

Option 2: Refer the motion to a committee.

Referring a motion to a committee is a great way to (1) delay its adoption, (2) increase the chances of a more thoughtful motion being put up for a vote (if the idea is worth considering), or (3) increase the chances of a motion ultimately “dying” because an idea doesn’t hold water.

Example of referring the above motion to a committee: “I move to refer the main motion to the financial committee.”

Referring a main motion to a committee is generally well-received by a group (as long as it’s not an obvious delay tactic on a highly controversial motion). It can also buy time for an idea to be well-researched and brought back to the group in more developed form.

Option 3: Postpone consideration of the motion to a future time. 

If you want to make this motion, here’s the key: you need to identify a time in the future when you want the main motion to be considered. The “time in the future” can be a specific date of a future meeting, or it can be after a certain set of events occurs.

Examples of postponing the above motion to a future time: “I move to postpone the main motion until the next board meeting” or “I move to postpone the main motion until after Halloween this year.”

Postponing consideration of a motion that you think is a bad idea can give you time to gather additional information in support of your view or to educate other members so that they understand the need to vote against the motion.

Option 4: Postpone consideration of the motion indefinitely. 

This motion is the opposite of the motion to postpone to a future time. The motion explained as Option 3 above requires the inclusion of a definite time in the future. This motion to postpone indefinitely may not include any definite time in the future.

Example of postponing the above motion indefinitely—this one’s easy! “I move to postpone the main motion indefinitely.”

If the group agrees with you and votes to postpone, then the main motion is gone and cannot be re-introduced until enough time has passed in the life of the organization to make the motion essentially a new question and not just a re-hash. It’s a powerful motion, and it is the best tactic to use if you are trying to “kill” a main motion.

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