When is it appropriate to use unanimous consent?
The purpose of Robert’s Rules of Order is to promote efficiency. One tool to help with that efficiency is unanimous consent. Time can be saved during a meeting by using unanimous consent as the method for voting for routine business matters, proposals that appear to have little or no opposition or questions of little importance. This procedure allows action to be taken without the formality of a vote and sometimes even without the formal six steps of a motion.
Action in this manner follows with the principle that rules are designed for the protection of the minority and generally do not need to be strictly enforced when there is no minority to protect. Under these conditions, the method of unanimous consent can be used either to adopt a motion without the steps of stating the question and putting the motion to a formal vote, or it can be used to take action without even the formality of a motion.
To obtain unanimous consent in either case, the chair states: “Is there any objection to…? [pause] Since there is no objection, the motion is adopted,” “If there is no objection, the member’s time will be extended” or “Without objection, the assembly will recess for 10 minutes.” Additional examples can be found at RobertsRules.Com.
If an objection is made, even though the chair may have already announced the result of the vote as one of no objection, the chair must disregard such an announcement and proceed to state the question in the usual manner.
Unanimous consent does not necessarily imply that every member present is in favor of the proposed action. It may only mean that the opposition, feeling that it is useless to oppose or discuss the matter, simply acquiesces. Similarly, when a member responds to the chair's inquiry, "Is there any objection ...?" with "I object," they may not necessarily oppose the motion itself, but may believe that it is wise to take a formal vote under the circumstances. In other words, the objection is raised, not to the proposed action, but to the actions being taken without a formal vote.
No member should hesitate to object if they feel it is desirable to do so, but they should not object merely for dilatory purposes. If a member is uncertain of the effect of an action proposed for unanimous consent, they can call out, "I reserve the right to object," or, "Reserving the right to object, ..." After brief consultation they can then object or withdraw the reservation (Roberts Rules of Order (11th ed.) p.54-56).
Michigan State University Extension Educators can provide your organization with assistance in learning more about parliamentary procedure. The Government and Public Policy team also offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).