Voting procedures: Part 2

Voting methods defined for better understanding of parliamentary procedure.

Many questions about parliamentary procedure are directed to Michigan State University Extension on a regular basis. One recent question was regarding voting. Members of professional and government organizations often use different methods of voting depending on the question.

  • Unanimous consent: Quite possibly the most efficient way of conducting a vote, is the voting method of choice because it saves so much time. The process involves simply asking the members if there's any objection to adopting the motion. If no one objects, then the motion is adopted. If even one member objects, then you proceed to take a vote.
  • Voice or “viva voce”: A vote by voice is the regular method of voting on any motion that does not require more than a majority vote for its adoption. It occurs by the chair stating “All those in favor say “aye” and “All those opposed say no.” The chair is listening to the greatest number of responses.
  • Show of hands: A method favored by small groups instead of a voice or standing vote. The chair says, “The question is on the adoption of the motion to [insert motion]. Those in favor of the motion will raise their right hand. [pausing in between] Those opposed will raise their right hand. Without actually counting, the chair judges whether more hands were raised in the affirmative or negative.
  • Counted hands vote: The methods of voting described so far rely on the chair’s judgment, without actually counting whether more are in favor or opposed to a motion. If the chair is unsure of results or expects the vote to be challenged they may chose a counted vote. When a vote is to be counted the chair says “Those in favor of the motion will raise their hand until counted.” [pause for the count] “Lower hands.”
  • Voting cards: In some assemblies (usually very large ones), members are given colored voting cards to hold up appropriately signifying their vote. In very large assemblies, voting cards are probably the most efficient means for deciding most questions because large groups require large rooms, making it all the more difficult for a presiding officer to discern the result of a voice vote or to tell who's standing and who is not. The chair states “All those in favor raise your voting card. [pause] Thank you, cards down. All those opposed raise your voting cards. Thank you, cards down.”
  • Rising or standing vote: The same as a counted hands vote, but rather requests members to actually rise out of their seat. The chair says, "All those in favor rise. [pause] Be seated. Then, All those opposed rise. [pause] Be seated."
  • Roll call vote: Typically done by the clerk who calls each members name and requests each member to answer “aye or no.”
  • Ballot vote: Typically not used for governments as it could violate the Open Meetings Act. It is used for other groups whenever members' individual views are desired not to be disclosed. Ballots, the slips of paper on which voters indicate their preferences, are understood to be secret ballots unless otherwise specified, such as with signed ballots, which may be used in voting by mail when secrecy is not required. If bylaws provide for ballot votes on any matter, it's to protect the individual member, from having to disclose their vote. Because the rule protects the rights of an individual, it's a rule that can't be suspended (even by a unanimous vote), and no vote that would force a member to disclose their views in order to protect that right is ever in order.

The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team 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. The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team also offers professional training in parliamentary procedure. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). 

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