In legislative assemblies, such as councils, legislatures, etc., the regulations of the code under which the assembly works sometimes give the presiding officer the privilege of voting only in case of a tie vote, and in that case he is compelled to vote. In all other meetings, the chairman may cast his vote when a ballot is taken. This privilege he does not usually exercise, however, unless he is desirous of making a tie, for the purpose of preventing the passage of a question.

An Example

Thus, if there be eleven persons to vote besides the chairman, and the vote stands six for the adoption of the resolution and five against, the chairman may vote with the minority, and thus defeat the resolution by making the vote a tie.

He May Vote Or Not

Or, in case the vote is a tie, he may vote with the opponents of the measure, and thus defeat the proposition, or, if unwilling to have his vote go on record, he may decline to vote, as the question is defeated in either case.

Reading All Papers

When papers are brought before the meeting, it is the conceded right of every member of the assembly to have them read at least once, before he can be compelled to vote on them, though no member should insist on the privilege of all papers, accounts, etc., being read, without the consent of the other members. To do so would so trespass on the time of the assembly as to seriously prevent the transaction of business. If, however, it is evident that when a member calls for the reading of any document pertaining to the question, that his object is information, and not delay, the chairman may instruct the clerk to read the paper without a vote of the members, unless the same be objected to, in which case the question must be put.

Reading Speeches

Neither has a member a right to insist on the clerk reading any book pertaining to the subject, nor can the member himself claim the privilege of reading a document, even his own speech, without leave of the house, if the same be objected to. If the speaker, however, is earnestly desirous of affording more light on the subject, without consuming time unnecessarily, he is usually allowed to proceed, without objection.

If the time of the assembly be taken up with a large amount of business, it is customary to read the title of a petition or communication to be considered, and refer the same to the appropriate standing committee. If, however, any member of the assembly insists that the paper shall be read, his right is admitted to exist.

Proper Time For Speaking On A Question

The usual plan of procedure in speaking to a question is as follows:

1st. A motion is made by a member.

2d. The motion is seconded by another member.

3d. The question is then stated to the meeting by the chairman, with the further remark, as follows:

"The question is now before the meeting, what is your pleasure in reference to it."

The question is now in condition for debate. Every member has a right to the expression of his opinion once upon the subject, either for or against. He has also the privilege of talking as long as he chooses, even adjourning to the next day, and the next, in legislative assemblies, unless by common consent a regulation has been imposed, restricting the time of speaking to a certain period.

Hints To Cease Speaking

If, however, the person speaking fails to secure the attention of the house, it should be a sufficient evidence that his remarks are without influence and effect, and good judgment will dictate that he should resume his seat. If disorder is caused by his continuance in speaking, it is the duty of the chairman to preserve decorum in the meeting, by calling the speaker to order, and requesting him to take his seat.

The Member Entitled To Speak First

As between several speakers who may wish to speak upon a question which has been introduced, the person making the motion is, by courtesy, entitled to speak first. The person moving an adjournment is entitled to speak first upon the reassembling of the meeting, after the adjournment; and of two members rising at the same time, the person opposing the question has a right to the floor before the member favoring the proposition.

Losing The Right To The Floor

A speaker having resigned his right to the floor, thereby forfeits his privilege of speaking any more to the question then under discussion, except by express permission of the assembly, unless for the purpose of offering some brief explanation in reference to his former remarks on the question.

The question having been put in the affirmative, and a vote taken on the same, any member who has not yet spoken may speak to the question before the negative is put. The coming of other members into the room after the affirmative of the question has been put, when the negative is under discussion, makes it necessary to put the affirmative again.

Times Of Speaking

As a rule, no member can speak more than once to the main question. Should the question be referred to a committee, however, he may speak on the report of the committee, though the question is the same as before.

Should there be an amendment, he may speak upon that, though it may involve essentially the same principles as the main question; and he may also speak upon an amendment to an amendment. Thus, a member desirous of speaking to a question again, may, by moving its reference to a committee, and the addition of amendments, obtain the floor several times, essentially upon the same question.

Suspension Of Rules

When it is discovered that a standing rule of the assembly is in conflict with a question of very considerable importance, which it is desirable should be acted upon, it has become the custom to suspend such rule, for the purpose of passing the question; such suspension taking place by motion, being seconded and passed by a majority vote.*

Taking A Vote

There are several methods of putting a question to vote; these being by ballot, viva voce, by calling the yeas and nays, by raising of hands, by standing, and by dividing the house, one party going to one side of the room, the other to the opposite side.

The question is in all cases put first in the affirmative, and if the chairman cannot himself determine by either of the above methods, in consequence of there being a large number of persons present, he may appoint certain members to act as tellers, to take the vote in different divisions of the house, taking the affirmative vote first.

The method adopted will depend upon the number and character of the audience, and the size and convenience of the room in which the meeting convenes.

* It is usual, in the code of rules adopted in deliberative assemblies, and especially legislative bodies, to provide that a certain number exceeding a majority, as two thirds or three fourths, shall be competent to the suspension of a rule in a particular case; when this is not provided, there seems to be no other mode of disposing with a rule than by general consent. - Cushing"s Manual.

Concluding Remarks

The harmony and success of a public meeting will depend very largely upon the order preserved by the presiding officer.

If the assemblage be of a character where any trouble is to be apprehended, it is well for the projectors of the meeting to notify officers, having authority to preserve order, to be in attendance. The chairman, however, will greatly aid in the preservation of stillness, by requesting all persons in the room to come forward and be seated in his near presence Let him see that every seat, if possible, is filled in front. A magnetic connection and sympathy exists between the presiding officer and the audience, when the congregation is placed closely around the chairman's desk, that is favorable for the president of a meeting. Seated near the chairman, the audience can more distinctly hear all that is said, they will take a greater interest in the meeting, and hence will observe better order.

Honorary Members

Veteran members of the meeting, and persons who have won honorable distinction in the cause that the meeting assembles to consider, distinguished past presiding officers, and other notabilities whose presence will lend dignity to the rostrum, the chairman may appropriately call to the stand, to occupy a seat beside him, all of which, well managed by the presiding officer, tends to give dignity, respectability, and influence to the proceedings of the assemblage.

The Ladies

In the preparation of this work on parliamentary usages, the author has, for convenience sake, made reference to, and spoken only of, the masculine gender. Realizing, however, that the time is now at hand when the women of the country will take a much more active part in public affairs than they have done hitherto, this chapter is also prepared with special reference to the wants of conventions, and other assemblages, composed wholly, or in part, of ladies; the only change required in the wording being the personal pronouns, which make reference to the male sex.

Titles Of Women Who Act As Officers

When a woman acts as presiding officer of a meeting, the person addressing her should say, "Mrs. President," or "Miss President," as the case may be.

The presiding officer will designate the speaker, if a lady, by name, by number; or as the lady, the number, the delegate, the representative, etc., as may be most convenient.

The titles of clerk, secretary, recording officer, treasurer, etc., are the same, whether applied to ladies or gentlemen.