4 Facts You Must Know About a Vote of No Confidence

A vote of no confidence in an individual or group is relatively common, or least the idea of taking that type of vote is commonly discussed, even if not acted on. In my experience, the desire to take a no-confidence vote typically arises when a group is dissatisfied with one or many of its leaders and wants a way of going on record with their dissatisfaction. Sometimes a no-confidence vote is an attempt to lay the groundwork for removal of an individual from office or for ousting them in the next election. Regardless of the surrounding circumstances or long-term plan, there are four key facts you should know before you decide to pursue a vote of no confidence.

Fact 1: Under Robert’s Rules, a vote of no confidence is not a vote to remove a person from a position. 

The term “no-confidence vote” is known largely because of the United Kingdom’s use of this type of vote to determine whether a prime minister can stay in office. In the UK, if a majority of the members of parliament cast a ballot that indicates they do not have confidence in the leader, he or she is removed from office.

Now, the key point here is that parliament and parliamentary procedure are not the same thing. This rule of parliament is not a rule in what has been and continues to be the most ubiquitous parliamentary procedure rulebook of the current timeRobert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. That’s correct. Robert’s Rules does not include any rule that allows a vote of no confidence to remove an individual from a position. In fact, Robert’s Rules does not even include the term “no-confidence vote.” 

Fact 2: A vote of no confidence simply communicates a group’s level of support for a person. 

So, if Robert’s Rules does not include the term “no-confidence vote,” can a group even take such a vote? Yes. Just know that if this type of a vote is taken, it is simply a vote that communicates a group’s level of support for or trust in a person. It has no other direct effect. 

Fact 3: A vote of no confidence starts with a main motion for that purpose.

Procedurally, the method for taking a vote of no confidence begins with a main motion, just like a group would do if it wanted to take any other action or position. The motion is debatable, and it requires a majority vote.

Fact 4: A motion to censure may be more effective than a vote of no confidence. 

There is another option in this scenario—it’s called a “motion to censure.” If you’re thinking about making a motion regarding a group’s level of confidence in a person, stop first to consider your goal. It’s likely that a specific set of events or conduct led to the current dissatisfaction. Is your goal to clearly communicate that those actions were inappropriate? If so, consider a motion to censure instead of a vote of no confidence.

  • A motion to censure is a main motion that needs only a majority vote (unless your governing documents require a different vote, of course).
  • A motion to censure is more conducive to specific identification of inappropriate conduct whereas a no‑confidence vote communicates a general lack of support.
  • A motion to censure can state the specific offense—e.g., to censure the President-Elect for failing to exemplify the core values of the Association when he made inappropriate comments in his recent speech at a university commencement.

In my view, identifying the specific conduct or events that led to a vote indicating a group’s dissatisfaction tends to be more productive in the long term for the organization and the individuals involved, and it allows for a better historical record of the reasons for an action in the minutes.