Solution for discussions that never end
Meetings dragging on forever? Learn to use the motion to call the question and get on with your life!
Most engaged citizens have inevitably attended a meeting that feels like it has no end. Perhaps a subject that some members of the body are passionate about continues to be discussed, and no new points are being raised, but rather individuals appear only to be repeating perspectives already shared. While it’s generally the chairperson’s job to recognize when a group is ready to vote on a topic, any member of the body can make a motion to hit the fast forward button on discussion and move to a vote. Assuming the group is already discussing an appropriate motion, any member of the body can “call the question” to move the group to a vote. Follow these five steps:
- Be recognized. Like any motion or discussion, it’s important to first be recognized by the chair. This is often done by simply raising a hand in meetings.
- State the motion. The appropriate language for a request to end discussion is “I move to call the question.”
- Second. Like any other motion, this should be seconded. Any other member of the body can be recognized and state, “I second the motion.”
- Vote. Unlike a typical motion, a motion to call the question is not discussed. Instead, the chair calls immediately for a vote. It’s important to remind the body this is a vote only to end the discussion, not a vote on the matter at hand. A successful motion to call the question requires two-thirds majority (rather than a simple majority) to pass.
- Outcome. If the vote is in favor of calling the question, discussion ends immediately and the chair proceeds directly to a vote on the matter at hand. If the vote is not in favor of calling the question, discussion continues on the motion already on the table.
Certainly, this motion can be abused. It’s appropriate to only introduce a motion to call the question after a motion has been adequately discussed. Of course, people’s definitions of adequate discussion vary, but members should use their best judgement to be sure that a motion to call the question doesn’t stifle the ability of others to share their thoughts.
Think this is too complicated of a concept in practice? Think again! After teaching Michigan 4-H youth members about this idea during an officer training, I was able to watch them implement it at a 4-H committee about a month later. At this particular committee, only youth can vote, but adult leaders and parents are welcome to express their opinions. Parents were busy debating (and repeating) their opinions about a potential rule change. When the youth were confident they had heard all sides of the story, they passed a motion to call the question, ending the discussion and silencing the adults, which allowed them to carry on with their meeting.