Main and Unclassified Motions

In this section:
37. Rescind, Repeal, or Annul
38. Renewal of a Motion
39. Ratify
40. Dilatory, Absurd, or Frivolous Motions
41. Call of the House


Rescind, Repeal, or Annul

Any vote taken by an assembly, except those mentioned further on, may be rescinded by a majority vote, provided notice of the motion has been given at the previous meeting or in the call for this meeting; or it may be rescinded without notice by a two-thirds vote, or by a vote of a majority of the entire membership. The notice may be given when another question is pending, but cannot interrupt a member while speaking. To rescind is identical with the motion to amend something previously adopted, by striking out the entire by-law, rule, resolution, section, or paragraph, and is subject to all the limitations as to notice and vote that may be placed by the rules on similar amendments. It is a main motion without any privilege, and therefore can be introduced only when there is nothing else before the assembly. It cannot be made if the question can be reached by calling up the motion to reconsider which has been previously made. It may be made by any member; it is debatable, and yields to all privileged and incidental motions; and all of the subsidiary motions may be applied to it. The motion to rescind can be applied to votes on all main motions, including questions of privilege and orders of the day that have been acted upon, and to votes on an appeal, with the following exceptions: votes cannot be rescinded after something has been done as a result of that vote that the assembly cannot undo; or where it is in the nature of a contract and the other party is informed of the fact; or, where a resignation has been acted upon, or one has been elected to, or expelled from, membership or office, and was present or has been officially notified. In the case of expulsion, the only way to reverse the action afterwards is to restore the person to membership or office, which requires the same preliminary steps and vote as is required for an election.

Where it is desired not only to rescind the action, but to express very strong disapproval, legislative bodies have, on rare occasions, voted to rescind the objectionable resolution and expunge it from the record, which is done by crossing out the words, or drawing a line around them, and writing across them the words, "Expunged by order of the assembly," etc., giving the date of the order. This statement should be signed by the secretary. The words expunged must not be so blotted as not to be readable, as otherwise it would be impossible to determine whether more was expunged than ordered. Any vote less than a majority of the total membership of an organization is certainly incompetent to expunge from the records a correct statement of what was done and recorded and the record of which was officially approved, even though a quorum is present and the vote to expunge is unanimous.

Renewal of a Motion

When an original main motion or an amendment has been adopted, or rejected, or a main motion has been postponed indefinitely, or an objection to its consideration has been sustained, it, or practically the same motion, cannot be again brought before the assembly at the same session, except by a motion to reconsider or to rescind the vote. But it may be introduced again at any future session.

In assemblies having regular sessions as often at least as quarterly, a main motion cannot be renewed until after the close of the next regular session, if it was postponed to that next session; or laid on the table; or adopted, or rejected, or postponed indefinitely, and the motion to reconsider was made and not acted on at the previous session. In these cases the question can be reached at the next session at the time to which it was postponed, or by taking it from the table, or by reconsidering the vote.

In assemblies whose regular sessions are not as frequent as quarterly, any motion which has not been committed or postponed to the next session may be renewed at that next session. The motions to adjourn, to take a recess, and to lay on the table, may be made again and again, provided there has been progress in debate or business, but the making of, or voting on, these motions is not business that justifies the renewal of a motion. Neither a motion to postpone indefinitely nor an amendment can be renewed at the same session, but the other subsidiary motions may be renewed whenever the progress in debate or business is such as to make the question before the assembly practically a different one. To take from the table and a call for the orders of the day may be renewed after the business is disposed of that was taken up when the motion to take from the table, or for the orders of the day, was lost. To postpone indefinitely cannot be renewed even though the main motion has been amended since the indefinite postponement was previously moved. A point of order cannot be raised if an identical one has been raised previously without success during the same session. And after the chair has been sustained in a ruling he need not entertain an appeal from a similar decision during the same session. Minutes may be corrected regardless of the time elapsed and of the fact that the correction had been previously proposed and lost.

When a subject which has been referred to a committee is reported back at the same meeting, or a subject that has been laid on the table is taken up at the same meeting, it is not a renewal.

The following motions, unless they have been withdrawn, cannot be renewed at the same session: to adopt or postpone indefinitely an original main motion; to amend; to reconsider, unless the question to be reconsidered was amended materially when previously reconsidered; to object to the consideration of a question; to fix the same time to which to adjourn; to suspend the rules for the same purpose at the same meeting, though it may be renewed at another meeting held the same day.

It is the duty of the chair to prevent the privilege of renewal from being used to obstruct business, and when it is evident that it is being so misused he should protect the assembly by refusing to recognize the motions, as explained under Dilatory Motions [40].


This is a main motion and is used when it is desired to confirm or make valid some action which requires the approval of the assembly to make it valid. The assembly may ratify only such actions of its officers or committees, or delegates, as it had the right to authorize in advance. It cannot make valid a viva voce election when the by-laws require it to be by ballot, nor can it ratify anything done in violation of the laws of the state, or of its own constitution or by-laws, except that it may ratify emergency action taken at a meeting when no quorum was present, even though the quorum is provided for in a by-law. A motion to ratify may be amended by substituting a motion of censure, and vice versa, when the action has been taken by an officer or other representative of the assembly. It is debatable and opens the entire question to debate.

Dilatory, Absurd, or Frivolous Motions

For the convenience of deliberative assemblies, it is necessary to allow some highly privileged motions to be renewed again and again after progress in debate or the transaction of any business, and to allow a single member, by calling for a division, to have another vote taken. If there was no provision for protecting the assembly, a minority of two members could be constantly raising questions of order and appealing from every decision of the chair, and calling for a division on every vote, even when it was nearly unanimous, and moving to lay motions on the table, and to adjourn, and offering amendments that are simply frivolous or absurd. By taking advantage of parliamentary forms and methods a small minority could practically stop the business of a deliberative assembly having short sessions, if there was no provision for such contingency. Congress met it by adopting this rule: "No dilatory motion shall be entertained by the speaker." But, without adopting any rule on the subject, every deliberative assembly has the inherent right to protect itself from being imposed upon by members using parliamentary forms to prevent it from doing the very thing for which it is in session, and which these forms were designed to assist, namely, to transact business. Therefore, whenever the chair is satisfied that members are using parliamentary forms merely to obstruct business, he should either not recognize them, or else rule them out of order. After the chair has been sustained upon an appeal, he should not entertain another appeal from the same obstructionists while they are engaged evidently in trying by that means to obstruct business. While the chair should always be courteous and fair, he should be firm in protecting the assembly from imposition, even though it be done in strict conformity with all parliamentary rules except this one, that no dilatory, absurd, or frivolous motions are allowed.

As an illustration of a frivolous or absurd motion, suppose Mr. A is to be in the city next week and a motion has been made to invite him to address the assembly at its next meeting, the meetings being weekly. Now, if a motion is made to refer the question to a committee with instructions to report at the next regular meeting, the chair should rule it out of order as frivolous or absurd.

Call of the House

(This cannot be used in ordinary assemblies, as they have not the power to compel the attendance of members.)

The object of a call of the house is to compel the attendance of absent members, and is allowable only in assemblies that have the power to compel the attendance of absentees. It is usual to provide in such assemblies that when no quorum is present, a specified small number can order a call of the house. In Congress a call of the house may be ordered by a majority vote, provided one-fifth of the members elect are present. A rule like the following would answer for city councils and other similar bodies that have the power to enforce attendance.

Rule. When no quorum is present, if one-fifth of the members elect are present, they may by a majority vote order a call of the house and compel the attendance of absent members. After the call is ordered, a motion to adjourn, or to dispense with further proceedings in the call, cannot be entertained until a quorum is present, or until the sergeant-at-arms2 reports that in his opinion no quorum can be obtained on that day.

If no quorum is present, a call of the house takes precedence of everything, even reading the minutes, except the motion to adjourn, and only requires in its favor the number specified in the rule. If a quorum is present a call should rank with questions of privilege [19], requiring a majority vote for its adoption, and if rejected it should not be renewed while a quorum is present at that meeting. After a call is ordered, until further proceedings in the call are dispensed with, no motion is in order except to adjourn and a motion relating to the call, so that a recess could not be taken by unanimous consent. An adjournment puts an end to all proceedings in the call, except that the assembly before adjournment, if a quorum is present, can order such members as are already arrested to make their excuse at an adjourned meeting.

Proceedings in a Call of the House. When the call is ordered the clerk calls the roll of members alphabetically, noting the absentees; he then calls over again the names of absentees, when excuses can be made; after this the doors are locked, no one being permitted to leave, and an order similar in form to the following is adopted: "Ordered, That the sergeant-at-arms take into custody, and bring to the bar of the House, such of its members as are absent without the leave of the House." A warrant signed by the presiding officer and attested by the clerk, with a list of absentees attached, is then given to the sergeant-at-arms, who immediately proceeds to arrest the absentees. When he appears with members under arrest, he proceeds to the chairman's desk (being announced by the doorkeeper in large bodies), followed by the arrested members, and makes his return. The chairman arraigns each member separately, and asks what excuse he has to offer for being absent from the sittings of the assembly without its leave. The member states his excuse, and a motion is made that he be discharged from custody and admitted to his seat either without payment of fees or after paying his fees. Until a member has paid the fees assessed against him he cannot vote or be recognized by the chair for any purpose.


1. In the early history of our Congress a call of the house required a day's notice and in the English parliament it is usual to order that the call shall be made on a certain day in the future, usually not over ten days afterwards, though it has been as long as six weeks afterwards. The object of this is to give notice so that all the members may be present on that day, when important business is to come before the house. In Congress a call of the house is only used now when no quorum is present, and as soon as a quorum appears it is usual to dispense with further proceedings in the call, and this is in order at any stage of the proceedings. In Congress it is customary afterwards to remit the fees that have been assessed. In some of our legislative bodies proceedings the call cannot be dispensed with except a majority of the members elect to vote in favor of so doing.

2. The term sergeant-at-arms should be replaced by "chief of police," or the title of whatever officer serves the warrant.

3. It is usual in Congress to excuse those who have "paired off," that is, two members on opposite sides of the pending question who have agreed that while one is absent the other will not vote on the question. Pairing should not be allowed on questions requiring a two-thirds vote.

Additional information related to Robert's Rules for Main and Unclassified Motions:
Take from the Table