A point of order is the parliamentary procedure term for “We’re going about this all wrong.” Many of us have had the experience of watching someone yell, “Point of order!” at a critical (or maybe not so critical) moment in a meeting. And as is usually the case with tidbits from Robert’s Rules, there’s a right and wrong way to use them.
Here are some common misconceptions about a point of order, plus the information you need to get it right.
A point of order cannot interrupt another speaker.
Wrong. A point of order can absolutely interrupt another speaker and actually must be made in a timely manner – as in, must be used when the parliamentary procedure error is happening, not later.
A point of order requires a second.
No. A point of order is not a motion, so it doesn’t require a second. It’s simply a flag-waving technique to let everyone – most importantly, the chair – know that the rules aren’t being followed and that they should be.
A point of order requires debate and a vote.
Not so. Generally, the response to a point of order is a ruling by the chair regarding whether the point is right or wrong.
If the point is right – for example, if the chair forgot to ask for a second on a motion or took a majority vote when he should have taken a two-thirds vote – then the chair makes that ruling and corrects the error.
If the point is wrong and everything really was on the parliamentary procedure up-and-up, then the chair says as much and moves along with the business of the meeting.
Only when the chair is uncertain about whether the point is right or wrong does he ask for the group’s opinion by way of debate and a vote. Uncertain means that the answer isn’t clear cut in the rulebook, not simply that the chair is confused about what the answer should be. If the chair doesn’t know the parliamentary procedure answer to the question, he should ask the parliamentarian for the meeting. In the end, work together. Use the group’s designated parliamentary authority – the rulebook. And find the answer.
Only troublemakers make points of order.
Not at all. People that know parliamentary procedure well can actually keep you out of trouble. They know when Robert’s Rules or the bylaws aren’t being followed, and they recognize when the error is serious enough to merit a course correction.
Unless a member has made it clear that he intends to derail a meeting by repeatedly yelling “Point of order!” even when there’s no issues, don’t assume that the member who uses the phrase has it in for the group or the chair. Often the individual is well-intentioned and can help everybody stay on track.
You should say, “Point of order!” every time someone makes a mistake.
Definitely not. As I’ve talked about before, the goal of making a point of order is to preserve rights and prevent harm – not to let everyone know that Robert’s Rules is your favorite bedtime reading choice.