Incidental Motions

24 Division of a Question, and Consideration by Paragraph
25 Division of the Assembly, and other Motions relating to Voting
26 Motions relating to Nominations
27 Requests Growing out of the Business of the Assembly


24. Division of a Question, and Consideration by Paragraph. Division of a Question. The motion to divide a question can be applied only to main motions and to amendments. It takes precedence of nothing but the motion to postpone indefinitely, and yields to all privileged, incidental, and subsidiary motions except to amend and to postpone indefinitely. It may be amended but can have no other subsidiary motion applied to it. It is undebatable. It may be made at any time when the question to be divided, or the motion to postpone indefinitely, is immediately pending, even after the previous question has been ordered. But it is preferable to divide the question when it is first introduced. When divided each resolution or proposition is considered and voted on separately, the same as if it had been offered alone. The motion to adopt, which was pending when the question was divided, applies to all the parts into which the question has been divided and should not, therefore, be repeated. The formality of a vote on dividing the question is generally dispensed with, as it is usually arranged by general consent. But if this cannot be done, then a formal motion to divide is necessary, specifying the exact method of division.


When a motion relating to a certain subject contains several parts, each of which is capable of standing as a complete proposition if the others are removed, it can be divided into two or more propositions to be considered and voted on as distinct questions, by the assembly's adopting a motion to divide the question in a specified manner. The motion must clearly state how the question is to be divided, and any one else may propose a different division, and these different propositions, or amendments, should be treated as filling blanks; that is, they should be voted on in the order in which they are made, unless they suggest different numbers of questions, when the largest number is voted on first. If a resolution includes several distinct propositions, but is so written that they cannot be separated without its being rewritten, the question cannot be divided. The division must not require the secretary to do more than to mechanically separate the resolution into the required parts, prefixing to each part the words "Resolved, That," or "Ordered, That," and dropping conjunctions when necessary, and replacing pronouns by the nouns for which they stand, wherever the division makes it necessary. When the question is decided, each separate question must be a proper one for the assembly to act upon, if none of the others is adopted. Thus, a motion to "commit with instructions" is indivisible; because, if divided, and the motion to commit should fail, then the other motion, to instruct the committee, would be absurd, as there would be no committee to instruct. The motion to "strike out certain words and insert others" is strictly one proposition and therefore indivisible.


If a series of independent resolutions relating to different subjects is included in one motion, it must be divided on the request of a single member, which request may be made while another has the floor. But however complicated a single proposition may be, no member has a right to insist upon its division. His remedy is to move that it be divided, if it is capable of division, or, if not, to move to strike out the objectionable parts. A motion to strike out a name in a resolution brings the assembly to a vote on that name just as well as would a division of the question, if it were allowed to go to that extent, which it is not. If a series of resolutions is proposed as a substitute for another series, such a motion is incapable of division; but a motion can be made to strike out any of the resolutions before the vote is taken on the substitution. After they have been substituted it is too late to strike out any of them. When a committee reports a number of amendments to a resolution referred to it, one vote may be taken on adopting, or agreeing to, all the amendments provided no one objects. But if a single member requests separate votes on one or more of the amendments, they must be considered separately. The others may all be voted on together.


Consideration by Paragraph or Seriatim. Where an elaborate proposition is submitted, like a series of resolutions on one subject, or a set of by-laws, the parts being intimately connected, it should not be divided. The division would add greatly to the difficulty of perfecting the different paragraphs or by-laws by amendments. If the paragraphs are adopted separately, and amendments to succeeding paragraphs make it necessary to amend a preceding one, it can be done only by first reconsidering the vote on the preceding paragraph. In the case of by-laws the trouble is increased, because each by-law goes into effect as soon as adopted, and its amendment is controlled by any by-law or rule that may have been adopted on the subject. When the paragraphs are voted on separately no vote should be taken on the whole. But in all such cases the proper course is to consider the proposition by paragraph, or section, or resolution, or, as it is often called, seriatim. The chair should always adopt this course when the question consists of several paragraphs or resolutions, unless he thinks the assembly wishes to act on them immediately as a whole, when he asks if they shall be taken up by paragraph, and the matter is settled informally. Should the chair neglect to take up the proposition by paragraph, any one may move that the proposition be considered by paragraph, or seriatim.


The method of procedure in acting upon a complicated report, as, a set of by-laws, or a series of resolutions that cannot well be divided, is as follows, the word "paragraph" being used to designate the natural subdivisions, whether they are paragraphs, sections, articles, or resolutions. The member submitting the report, having obtained the floor says that such and such committee submits the following report; or, that the committee recommends the adoption of the following resolutions. In either case he reads the report, or resolutions, and moves their adoption. Should he neglect to move their adoption, the chair should call for such a motion, or he may assume the motion and state the question accordingly. The chairman, or the secretary, or the member who reported it, as the chair decides is for the best interest of the assembly, then reads the first paragraph, which is explained by the reporting member, after which the chair asks, "Are there any amendments to this paragraph?" The paragraph is then open to debate and amendment. When no further amendments are proposed to this paragraph, the chair says, "There being no further amendments to this paragraph the next will be read." In a similar manner each paragraph in succession is read, explained if necessary, debated, and amended, the paragraphs being amended but not adopted. After all the paragraphs have been amended, the chair says the entire by-law, or paper, or resolution is open to amendment, when additional paragraphs may be inserted and any paragraph may be further amended. When the paper is satisfactorily amended, the preamble, if any, is treated the same way, and then a single vote is taken on the adoption of the entire paper, report, or series of resolutions. If the previous question is ordered on a resolution, or series of resolutions, or on a set of by-laws, before the preamble has been considered it does not apply to the preamble, unless expressly so stated, because the preamble cannot be considered until after debate has ceased on the resolutions or by-laws. It is not necessary to amend the numbers of the sections, paragraphs, etc., as it is the duty of the secretary to make all such corrections where changes are rendered necessary by amendments.


1. Section 6 of H.R. Rule 16 is as follows: "6. On the demand of any member, before the question is put, a question shall be divided if it include propositions so distinct in substance that one being taken away a substantive proposition shall remain."

25. Division of the Assembly, and other Motions relating to Voting. A Division of the Assembly1 may be called for, without obtaining the floor, at any time after the question has been put, even after the vote has been announced and another has the floor, provided the vote was taken viva voce, or by show of hands, and it is called for before another motion has been made. This call, or motion, is made by saying, "I call for a division," or "I doubt the vote," or simply by calling out, "Division." It does not require a second, and cannot be debated, or amended, or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it. As soon as a division is called for, the chair proceeds again to take the vote, this time by having the affirmative rise, and then when they are seated having the negative rise. While any member has the right to insist upon a rising vote, or a division, where there is any question as to the vote being a true expression of the will of the assembly, the chair should not permit this privilege to be abused to the annoyance of the assembly, by members constantly demanding a division where there is a full vote and no question as to which side is in the majority. It requires a majority vote to order the vote to be counted, or to be taken by yeas and nays (roll call) or by ballot. These motions are incidental to the question that is pending or has just been pending, and cannot be debated. When different methods are suggested they are usually treated not as amendments, but like filling blanks, the vote being taken first on the one taking the most time. In practice the method of taking a vote is generally agreed upon without the formality of a vote.


When the vote is taken by ballot during a meeting of the assembly, as soon as the chair thinks all have voted who wish to, he inquires if all have voted, and if there is no response he declares the polls closed, and the tellers proceed to count the vote. If a formal motion is made to close the polls it should not be recognized until all have presumably voted, and then it requires a two-thirds vote like motions to close debate or nominations. If members enter afterwards and it is desired to reopen the polls it can be done by a majority vote. None of these motions are debatable.


1. See foot note, [9], for the rule of Congress.

26. Motions relating to Nominations. If no method of making nominations is designated by the by-laws or rules, and the assembly has adopted no order on the subject, any one can make a motion prescribing the method of nomination for an office to be filled. If the election is pending, this motion is incidental to it; if the election is not pending, it is an incidental main motion. It is undebatable and when it is an incidental motion it can have no subsidiary motion applied to it except to amend. It yields to privileged motions. The motion may provide for nominations being made be the chair; or from the floor, or open nominations as it is also called; or for a nominating committee to be appointed; or for nominations to be made by ballot; or by mail. [See Nominations and Elections, 66]


Closing and Reopening Nominations. Before proceeding to an election, if nominations have been made from the floor or by a committee, the chair should inquire if there are any further nominations. If there is no response he declares the nominations closed. In very large bodies it is customary to make a motion to close nominations, but until a reasonable time has been given, this motion is not in order. It is a main motion, incidental to the nominations and elections, cannot be debated, can be amended as to the time, but can have no other subsidiary motion applied to it. It yields to privileged motions, and requires a two-thirds vote as it deprives members of one of their rights.


If for any reason it is desired to reopen nominations it may be done by a majority vote. This motion is undebatable. It can be amended as to the time, but no other subsidiary motion can be applied to it. It yields to privileged motions.

27. Requests Growing out of the Business of the Assembly. During the meetings of a deliberative assembly there are occasions when members wish to obtain information, or to do or to have done things that necessitate their making a request. Among these are the following, which will be treated separately:

(a) Parliamentary Inquiry;
(b) Request for Information;
(c) Leave to Withdraw a Motion;
(d) Reading Papers;
(e) To be Excused from a Duty;
(f) For any other Privilege.


(a) Parliamentary Inquiry. A parliamentary inquiry, if it relates to a question that requires immediate attention, may be made while another has the floor, or may even. interrupt a speech. It should not, however, be permitted to interrupt a speaker any more than is necessary to do justice to the inquirer. It yields to privileged motions, if they were in order when the inquiry was made, and it cannot be debated or amended or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it. The inquirer does not obtain the floor, but rises and says, "Mr. Chairman, I rise to a parliamentary inquiry." The chairman asks him to state his inquiry, and if he deems it pertinent, he answers it. Or, if the inquiry is made when another has the floor, and there is no necessity for answering it until the speech is finished, the chair may defer his answer until the speaker has closed his remarks. While it is not the duty of the chairman to answer questions of parliamentary law in general, it is his duty when requested by a member, to answer any questions on parliamentary law pertinent to the pending business that may be necessary to enable the member to make a suitable motion or to raise a point of order. The chairman is supposed to be familiar with parliamentary law, while many of the members are not. A member wishing to raise a point of order and yet in doubt, should rise to a parliamentary inquiry and ask for information. Or, for instance, he may wish to have the assembly act immediately on a subject that is in the hands of a committee, and he does not know how to accomplish it; -- his recourse is a parliamentary inquiry.


(b) Request for Information. A request for information relating to the pending business is treated just as a parliamentary inquiry, and has the same privileges. The inquirer rises and says, "Mr. Chairman, I rise for information," or, "I rise to a point of information," whereupon the chair directs him to state the point upon which he desires information, and the procedure continues as in case of a parliamentary inquiry. If the information is desired of the speaker, instead of the chair, the inquirer upon rising says, "Mr. Chairman, I should like to ask the gentleman a question." The chairman inquires if the speaker is willing to be interrupted, and if he consents, he directs the inquirer to proceed. The inquirer then asks the question through the chair, thus, "Mr. Chairman, I should like to ask the gentleman," etc. The reply is made in the same way, as it is not in order for members to address one another in the assembly. While each speaker addresses the chair, the chair remains silent during the conversation. If the speaker consents to the interruption the time consumed is taken out of his time.


(c) Leave to Withdraw or Modify a Motion.1 A request for leave to withdraw a motion, or a motion to grant such leave, may be made at any time before voting on the question has commenced, even though the motion has been amended. It requires no second. It may be made while incidental or subsidiary motions are pending, and these motions cease to be before the assembly when the question to which they are incidental or subsidiary is withdrawn. It yields to privileged motions, and cannot be amended or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it. It is undebatable. When it is too late to renew it, the motion to reconsider cannot be withdrawn without unanimous consent. When a motion is withdrawn, the effect is the same as if it had never been made. Until a motion is stated by the chairman, the mover may withdraw or modify it without asking consent of any one. If he modifies it the seconder may withdraw his second. After the question has been stated it is in possession of the assembly, and he can neither withdraw nor modify it without the consent of the assembly. When the mover requests permission to modify or withdraw his motion, the chair asks if there is any objection, and if there is none he announces that the motion is withdrawn or modified in such and such a way, as the case may be. If any one objects the chair puts the question on granting the request, or a motion may be made to grant it. In case the mover of a main motion wishes to accept an amendment that has been offered, without obtaining the floor, he says, "Mr. Chairman, I accept the amendment." If no objection is made the chair announces the question as amended. If any one objects, the chair states the question on the amendment, as it can be accepted only by general consent. A request for leave to do anything is treated the same as a motion to grant the leave except that the request must be made by the maker of the motion it is proposed to modify, while the motion to grant the leave is made by some one else and therefore requires no second as it is favored by the one making the request.


(d) Reading Papers. If any member objects, a member has no right to read, or have the clerk read, from any paper or book, as a part of his speech, without the permission of the assembly. The request or the motion to grant such permission yields to privileged motions. It cannot be debated, or amended, or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it. It is customary, however, to allow members to read printed extracts as parts of their speeches, as long as they do not abuse the privilege.


Where papers are laid before the assembly, every member has a right to have them read once, or if there is debate or amendment he has the right to have them read again, before he can be compelled to vote on them. Whenever a member asks for the reading of any such paper evidently for information, and not for delay, the chair should direct it to be read, if no one objects. But a member has not the right to have anything read (excepting as stated above) without permission of the assembly. If a member was absent from the hall when the paper under consideration was read, even though absent on duty, he cannot insist on its being again read, as the convenience of the assembly is of more importance than that of a single member.


(e) To be Excused from a Duty. If a member is elected to office, or appointed on a committee, or has any other duty placed on him, and he is unable or unwilling to perform the duty, if present he should decline it immediately, and if absent he should, upon learning of the fact, at once notify the secretary or president orally or in writing that he cannot accept the duty. In most organizations members cannot be compelled to accept office or perform any duties not required by the by-laws, and therefore they have the right to decline office. But if a member does not immediately decline, by his silence he accepts the office, and is under obligation to perform the duty until there has been a reasonable opportunity for his resignation to be accepted. The secretary, for instance, cannot relieve himself from the responsibility of his office by resigning. His responsibility as secretary does not cease until his resignation is accepted, or, at least, until there has been a reasonable time for its acceptance. It is seldom good policy to decline to accept a resignation. As a member has no right to continue to hold an office the duties of which he cannot or will not perform, so a society has no right to force an office on an unwilling member. When a member declines an office, no motion is necessary, unless the by-laws of the society make the performance of such duties obligatory upon members. If the member is present at the election, the vacancy is filled as if no one had been elected. If the member was not present at the election, when the chair announces his refusal to take the office, as it is a ques


(f) Request for Any Other Privilege. When any request is to be made the member rises and addresses the chair, and as soon as he catches the eye of the chairman, states at once why he rises. He should rise as soon as a member yields the floor, and, though the floor is assigned to another, he still makes his request. He should never interrupt a member while speaking unless he is sure that the urgency of the case justifies it. As a rule all such questions are settled by general consent, or informally, but, if objection is made, a vote is taken. An explanation may be requested or given, but there is no debate. As these requests arise, they should be treated so as to interrupt the proceedings as little as is consistent with the demands of justice.


1. In Congress a motion "may be withdrawn at any time before a decision or amendment." H.R. Rule 16, §2. The rule given above, which is in accordance with the common parliamentary law, is better adapted to ordinary assemblies.