Unanimous Consent: Good Presiding Officers Use It!

Unanimous consent blog

Jim Slaughter

Sure, you can use formal procedure to handle routine, noncontroversial matters in board and membership meetings.  But why would you?

Let’s look at a typical meeting example:

Chair: Is there a motion to approve the minutes?
[uncomfortable silence, finally followed by]
Member: I move to approve the minutes.
Chair: Is there a second?
[uncomfortable silence, finally followed by]
Member: Second!
Chair: It is moved and seconded to approve the minutes.  Is there any discussion?
[no, there isn’t]
Chair: The question is on the motion to approve the minutes.  Those in favor of approving the minutes, say ‘aye.’ . . . Those opposed, say ‘no.’  The minutes are approved.
[FYI, everyone voted “aye”]

There went two excruciating minutes of our lives.  And we’re not getting them back!

For noncontroversial matters, action by unanimous consent may be the most efficient means of voting.

Unanimous Consent Defined

Unanimous consent (sometimes called “general consent”) is a great time-saver for routine items.  On motions that are likely noncontroversial, the chair can ask if there is any objection to approving the item.  For example, immediately following a motion to close debate that the presiding officer feels is very much desired by the members, she might ask, “Is there any objection to closing debate?”  If no one objects, the motion is approved.  If a member objects, the presiding officer can take a formal vote.

Is such a practice proper according to parliamentary authorities like Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition)?  Absolutely!  According to Robert’s, “Action in this manner is in accord with the principle that rules are designed for the protection of the minority and generally need not be strictly enforced when there is no minority to protect.”  (RONR § 4, p. 54)

In the minutes, anything adopted by unanimous consent would normally be shown by simply stating the matter was “approved unanimously” or “without objection.”  For organizations that must list how members vote–either due to state statute or governing documents–every member present would be shown as voting for the motion.  General consent IS a motion and vote—just a shortened version.

Unanimous consent can even be used to take action without the formality of a motion. For example, with no motion pending the chair might say, “We’ve been at this a while, is there any objection to taking a 10-minute recess?”  If there is objection, the chair can ask for a motion, second, and process the motion formally.

In short, unanimous consent is a useful tool regularly used by good presiding officers.  In addition to being more relaxed, it allows an assembly to move quickly through non-contested issues so that there is more time for contested ones.

(See Chapters 3 and 7 of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parliamentary Procedure Fast-Track for other methods of voting and language for the chair.)