“The ‘ayes’ have it, and the motion is adopted.” Have you ever heard these words announced after a voice vote in a meeting and thought, “Um, no. Pretty sure that motion didn’t have enough ‘yes’ votes to pass”? If so, you’re not alone. Disagreement with the chair’s call on the results of a voice vote is pretty common. The problem is that most people don’t know what to do about it. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Challenge the announced results immediately.
Rule #1 is to act fast. If you think the chair got it wrong, speak up, and do it now. Let’s get technical as to timing:
You can challenge results of a voice vote starting immediately after the negative votes are cast and until immediately after the chair announces the results of the vote.
What does “immediately” mean? It means before any more discussion or business occurs. So, if you think the negative votes on whether to have that bake sale fundraiser were louder and the chair said the motion passed anyway, don’t even give people a second to think about what kind of brownies they’re going to bake. Stand up and challenge the announced results immediately. If the group moves on to discuss how great the sale is going to be and what to do with the money raised, you’ve lost your opportunity.
Step 2: Say the word “division.”
Now, you may be thinking, “How in the world do I get to a microphone fast enough to challenge the vote before the group moves on?” And, “What will I say when I get there?”
Here are two key points you need to know:
- All that you have to say is “division.” This is the magic word. In parliamentary procedure land, when a vote is retaken, it is called a “division of the assembly,” meaning the assembly will be divided up according to its respective “yes” and “no” votes. So, someone demanding that kind of accounting is calling for a division to double-check the result. “Division” is all you have say to get the ball rolling. (Best one-word game-changer ever.)
- You don’t have to be at a microphone, or even be recognized to challenge the results of a vote as announced. That’s right – this is one of those few times that Robert’s Rules lets you forget all that “don’t speak unless you raise your hand and are recognized” stuff. You can just simply yell out, “division.” Ok . . . maybe “yell” is too strong a word. But I do recommend that you say it good and loud enough for everyone to hear.
Once any member says “division,” the chair is required to retake the vote by asking members to stand and vote, not just speak “yes” or “no.”
Step 3: Stop while you’re ahead.
All right, I’m guessing you feel pretty empowered by this point. But, before you go to your next meeting and start yelling “division” at every turn, there’s a couple points you need to know:
- Repeatedly yelling “division” on a whim might make people stare. Just sayin’. Seriously though, Robert’s Rules does put a moratorium on using “division” simply to slow things down and irritate everyone. Rule of thumb: If the vote result is clear and everyone knows it, pipe down.
- Saying “division” gets you the right to have a rising/standing vote taken. It doesn’t get you the right to have the vote explicitly counted. That’s a whole different kind of complicated and best explained in another post.
To sum it up, don’t be afraid to challenge the chair. Leaders aren’t perfect, the result of a voice vote can be vague, and accountability is a great thing.