What Is a Majority Vote?

It’s probably a stretch to say that life is incomplete without a glossary of parliamentary procedure voting terms. But…understanding basic voting concepts is key to tracking with what’s happening in a business meeting. Today, I’m giving you a quick guide to understanding the term “majority vote” and a few other voting terms you might hear in your next meeting.

Taking Votes 

First, don’t forget that there are various ways to take a vote. We’re probably most familiar with the ballot vote method, where each voter records his vote on paper, in secret. Ballot voting is required only when designated in the group’s bylaws or when ordered by a majority vote.

An efficient, verbal voting method, often used in a large group, is the voice vote. The Chair asks voters to say “aye” if in favor of a motion and say “no” if not in favor. Similar styles of voting are a show-of-hands vote and a standing vote. All of these forego any record of exactly how each person voted, but if that’s not important, these are good, fast options.

A vote by general consent or unanimous consent is another less formal, quicker option. For noncontroversial issues, the Chair can just check to be sure no one objects to a proposed action and then proceed without the formality of a motion, second, and discussion.

If everyone voting casts the exact same vote, this is called a unanimous vote. And a special note on this one…. Requiring a unanimous vote to take a certain type of action sounds like a good idea, but it rarely is, for this reason: a unanimous vote allows one person—the person voting “no”—to control the actions of the group.

In the case that only one nominee is running for an office, do a vote by acclamation. Unless bylaws require a ballot vote, this method means the Chair just announces that the nominated individual is elected (without asking if anyone objects). And, according to tradition—this is the fun part!—everyone claps to welcome Ms. Nancy Newly Elected to her uncontested “win.”

Tallying Votes

Taking a vote is one thing, but actually tallying votes can sometimes be a little haphazard. (Keep Robert’s Rules and your bylaws handy if you’re a teller.) Here are common terms used for the number of votes required for a motion to pass or for a nominee to be elected.

If your bylaws say simply that a majority vote is required for the group to take action, this means more than half of the members (1) in good standing, (2) present, and (3) voting. Said differently, a majority is more than half of the votes cast.

Often, though, bylaws say a bit more about the type of majority vote required. Here are some examples:

  • A majority of a quorum means more than half of the members needed for a quorum.
  • A majority of the membership means more than half of all of the members in good standing, regardless of whether all of the members are present or voting.
  • A majority of the members present means more than half of members in good standing and present.
  • A plurality means more votes than any other choice, regardless of whether there are enough votes for a majority.

These concepts apply to all types of majorities. Sometimes, for adoption of a proposal, governing documents or a group’s parliamentary authority requires two-thirds, or three-fourths, or another threshold that’s more than half. And if this is the case, look first for the basis on which the required majority is calculated—i.e., one of the majorities I just defined above. If the percentage has no conditions and the bylaws simply say two-thirds or three-fourths, then you need at least that percentage of the votes cast. But if there’s mention of one of the special majority terms defined above, use that as the basis on which you calculate the votes required.