Parliamentary procedure: What is a motion to rescind?

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

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 rescind. (Also see: What is the motion to reconsider?).

The motion to rescind

The motion to rescind is one of a group of motions that bring a question again before the assembly. It can be applied to any decision adopted by the board at any time (if it is during the same meeting as the decision the motion to reconsider is used).  It differs from the motion to reconsider in that there is no time limit on making this motion and any member regardless of how the member voted on the original question can make it. 

Unlike a motion to reconsider, which only needs a majority vote to pass, a motion to rescind is more of a challenge. In order to rescind something previously adopted by a majority vote, the board must have received notice of the intent to present such a motion either at a previous meeting or with the call of the meeting (as long as the time between meetings is within a quarter). If that pre-meeting notice does not occur, then the vote required to rescind is two-thirds of those present and voting or a majority of the entire membership of an organization (not just those present).

The motion to rescind can be introduced at a time when no other business is pending.  After being recognized by the chair, a member makes the motion to rescind. The motion should include a description or reference to the decision in question (worded as closely as possible to any notice that has already been provided). Another member then must second the motion.  The chair restates the motion to rescind and asks for debate. During debate, any member may propose amendments (changes that are greater than the scope of notice are not in order).  After full debate, the vote is taken on rescinding the motion.

If the original motion has been acted upon and that action cannot be undone the motion cannot be rescinded. However, any unexecuted part could be rescinded or amended. 

For a complete description of the characteristics of the rescind/amend options of something previously adopted see RONR pp. 305-310.

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.