kevin_standlee: (Gavel of WSFS)
[personal profile] kevin_standlee
At the third and final Main Business Meeting on the last day of Worldcon 75, we considered (and ratified/adopted) six constitutional amendments, and for the most part we breezed right through them. In the process of doing so, I repeatedly allowed the introduction of motions to "suspend the rules, end all debate, and adopt the motion immediately" as ordinary motions to Suspend The Rules, requiring a two-thirds vote. This was wrong.

WSFS Standing Rule 5.5 reads, in part: "The motion for the Previous Question (also known as the motion to 'close debate,' 'call the question,' and 'vote now') shall not be in order when... either or both sides of the debate have yet to speak to a question." Previous Question requires a 2/3 vote ordinarily anyway, which is the same vote as Suspend the Rules. Therefore, this standing rule must be protecting a minority smaller than one-third. I think that this rule must be protecting a minority as small as a single individual present at the meeting (not absentees), because it says you can't end the debate unless at least one speaker from each side of the question has had the opportunity to speak. (It doesn't require that a speech actually happen, just that both sides get an opportunity to do so.)

In parliamentary law, there is a hierarchy of rights in the rules. For example, the majority has rights, which surprises at least one person I spoke to this past weekend, who looked at me with a confused, blank expression on his face when I told him that super-majorities of two-thirds generally have the right to not have their time wasted. Furthermore, some rules can't be suspended at all: a rule that protects absent members can't be suspended.

A rule protecting a minority of a given size cannot be suspended except by a larger majority. What that means is this:
A rule that protects the right of an individual member can only be suspended by unanimous consent.

This doesn't mean that there is an unlimited right to debate. If at least one other person has spoken to your side of the question (and the other side has had an opportunity to speak, regardless of whether they actually do so), the meeting can then vote (2/3) to shut off debate, and your right as an individual to speak can be overridden. But if your side hasn't spoken at all, you as an individual member have the right to stop the entire rest of the room from shutting down your side's debate until you get a shot at it.

Thus, the motion as it was first made by John Pomeranz was correct, as it was to "suspend the rules and adopt by acclamation," which is to say unanimous consent. But in such a case, if even one member objected, the motion should have failed, and both sides of the question should have been given the opportunity to speak to the matter if they choose to do so. After that, the motion for the Previous Question (end debate, 2/3 required) would have been in order.

Please be mindful that I'm not saying we should have "sham debate" where people take the floor to say one or two words to just barely meet a technical requirement for debate. That's foolish. But it was wrong of me to allow a motion that protected individuals (a minority of one) to be passed on anything less than a unanimous vote.

Now, my mistake doesn't invalidate the actions of the meeting. Someone, anyone could have made a Point of Order about this. Nobody did, and thus the result stands. But I don't want to make that mistake again, and I want others to learn from my mistake so that it doesn't get repeated.

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