How can we be clear about motions and amendments so that all the board and those in the audience understand what the board is voting on?

Making a motion and amending it once before voting on the amended motion can usually be handled with no problem. But multiple amendments, retractions and attempts to amend can leave everyone clueless about what the board is actually voting on.

The chair should first accept a main motion, ask for a second and then clearly restate the motion. Once seconded, the motion belongs to the entire board and can only be amended by a vote of the board. In other words, five minutes into discussion of the motion, the original maker can't just say "Oh wait, I want to change my motion to …" and have that become the new motion.

Anytime before a final vote on the motion, it can be amended by any member of the board (including the original maker of the motion) as long as two conditions are met:

  • The motion must be directly related to the main motion ("germane") 
  • The amendment must be seconded by another board member 

When the motion to amend is made and seconded, the board must deal with the amendment before dealing with the main motion. The board must debate and vote on the amendment only - not the main motion. The board chair must keep everyone on the topic of the amendment. If a member begins to comment on the main motion, the chair should rule him or her out of order immediately. After debate, the chair calls for a vote on the amendment. If it passes, the chair restates the motion as amended and opens it up for debate. If the amendment fails, the chair states the motion as originally worded and the board debates the main motion. 

Once you are back to a main motion, that motion can be amended and the cycle begins again until the main motion is finally voted.

While it is possible and allowable under Robert's Rules to have amendments of the second rank, also known as amendments to amendments, any board suffering confusion about motions and amendments is well advised to stick to one amendment at a time.

If the board allows only one amendment at a time, and the chair clearly states the full language of the motion, or motion to amend, before and after each vote, confusion can be minimized. 

Julie Catala, board secretary for Corvallis School District 509J, has developed a simple guideline (13k This file is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. Click here to download.) for making and amending motions.

For more information on this question, Ask OSBA.