Parliamentary procedure: What is a motion to reconsider?

Board members sometimes feel the need to change their mind regarding an issue before them. One method of revisiting a past decision is the motion to reconsider.

This is one in a series of articles on parliamentary procedure and how to conduct more effective organizational meetings. For a complete list in this series go to the Parliamentary Procedure resource. 

A common question of parliamentary procedure is whether or not a board can change its mind on a decision once it has been adopted. The answer is, yes, it can  be done. That being said, from a practical standpoint some decisions, if already carried out, cannot be undone (such as issues with a contract being let, an already completed purchase or a person given official notification of expulsion from membership).

As a professional registered parliamentarian working for Michigan State University Extension, I often consult the gold standard of parliamentary procedure, Robert’s Rules of Order, a book that had its first printing in 1876.

According to Roberts Rules of Order, 11th Edition (RONR), there are two ways a decision of the board can be changed.  If a member wants to change a decision made in the same meeting they would use a motion to reconsider. If it is necessary to change a decision that was adopted at a previous meeting a member would make a motion to rescind.  These two motions have some similar characteristics but it is important to highlight their differences so that board members know when and how to use them properly. This article provides a basic primer on the motion to reconsider. (Also see: What is a motion to rescind?).

Motion to Reconsider

The motion to reconsider can be made by a board member when he or she wishes to ask the entire board to revisit a previous decision made at the same meeting. Reconsider is most commonly applied to main motions but some subsidiary and incidental motions are also subject to reconsideration. The exceptions and uses for the motion can get complicated. But to keep things simple, remember that an affirmative vote cannot be reconsidered if it has been partly carried out, or if in the nature of a contract, the party to the contract has already been notified.

The effect of the motion to reconsider, if adopted, is that debate resumes right where the board left off prior to its original vote. To prevent abuse by those who simply didn’t like the outcome of a vote the motion to reconsider has three special characteristics:

  1. The motion can only be made by someone who voted on the prevailing side -- voted yes on a motion that passed or no on a motion that did not. If a member voted by ballot, they must be willing to reveal how they voted in order to make the motion.
  2. The making of the motion is subject to time limits (see RONR p. 316 ll. 21- 31).  For ordinary meetings of a board who meets monthly or biweekly, for example, it can only be made at the same meeting the decision to be reconsidered was made.
  3. A motion to reconsider ranks higher than its original consideration. What this means is that a member can move to reconsider a vote at any time during a meeting even when another issue is pending. However, since it would not be “in order” to consider a motion at that time the secretary is instructed to record the motion as made and seconded. The motion can then be “called up” for consideration at a later time in the meeting when it would be “in order.” The “calling up” of a motion to reconsider can be done by any member and does not need a second since that already took place when the motion was originally made. This is useful since it may be necessary to let members know there is a desire to reconsider a decision even if it can’t be taken up at that moment.

To properly handle a motion to reconsider, a member who voted on the prevailing side is recognized by the chair and moves to reconsider the vote; any other member seconds the motion.  The chair restates the motion “to reconsider” as pending and asks for debate. Once debate is over, members vote on the motion to reconsider.  If the motion to reconsider passes, the original (reconsidered) motion is brought back before the assembly to be voted on again. If the motion to reconsider is lost, it is the only vote taken and business proceeds to the next item on the agenda. Only a majority vote is needed to adopt the motion.

The motion to reconsider is useful when a board realizes that they might have made a decision without proper debate or if information is received later in the meeting that impacts an earlier decision. For a thorough discussion of all the intricacies of the motion to reconsider, including how it is handled differently in a committee see RONR p. 315 l.15 – p 332. l. 26.

This is one in a series of articles on parliamentary procedure and how to conduct more effective organizational meetings. For a complete list in this series go to the Parliamentary Procedure resource.

Watch MSU Extension for monthly articles posted on commonly asked questions about how to use parliamentary procedure. As a professional registered parliamentarian with the National Association of Parliamentarians, the primary reference for the answers to the questions will be based on Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 11th Edition. See the Robert's Rules Society for information on how to adopt RONR as your organization’s parliamentary authority.

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