Quorum may be the most important term in Robert’s Rules. It means the minimum number of members of a group or organization who must be in attendance at a meeting in order to conduct any official business. No matter how the chair conducts a meeting, no matter what motions have been made, if a quorum is not present, business cannot be conducted. Period.
Don’t confuse the term quorum with the term majority. Quorum means the number of members who need to be present to legally transact business. A majority is the number of that quorum needed for an affirmative vote.
What’s Your Number?
Your group wants to meet to discuss business and act on issues of importance, so you must decide from the beginning what constitutes a quorum. This quorum is necessary to prevent a few members from acting in ways that don’t represent the majority of the members.
Sometimes a quorum is a majority of members; at other times, it is the number of people who can be expected to attend a meeting, except in unusual circumstances such as severe weather or other situations beyond their control. It’s extremely important to put this quorum requirement in the bylaws, especially if the group is one that enacts legislation, gathers and spends a lot of money, and so on. It’s also vital that the chair and all who attend make it a priority to be careful that a quorum exists each time a vote will be taken.
What is the number required for a quorum in your group or organization? Your bylaws should state the number for a quorum, but if such a requirement has not been made, Robert’s Rules set out some specifics. In any meeting, a quorum is the number of enrolled members present. This is because they are the entire membership at the time.
In groups such as churches that have no required dues and no official list of members, a quorum consists of those who attend, as well. A quorum of delegates at a convention is simply the majority of the number of delegates who have registered to attend; even if some leave, there is still a quorum.
Imagine this situation: Your group or organization doesn’t have a quorum number specified in its bylaws. It numbers fifty members. At one evening’s meeting, twenty people show up. Fifteen vote in favor of a motion you know most members are against. While there are ways to reverse this vote, it’s going to cause a lot of work and ruffle a lot of feathers to do so. How much simpler it would have been to specify a quorum.
It’s Your Job, Too
It must be the job of everyone, not just the chair, to make certain that a quorum is present at all times that a vote is to be taken during the meeting. If you’re the chair, do your research before a meeting to determine what is a quorum for your group. (Some groups even specify within their bylaws the number that is the quorum.)
Then, throughout the meeting, try to do a brief scan of the room to see if there appears to be enough members to take a vote; some presiding officers will take a head count before the vote, just in case. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of every member to make certain that a quorum exists when business is transacted for it to be legal. If there is no quorum, a member should raise a point of order.
What if you have a quorum, then members leave?
Bring the matter to the attention of the chair. Otherwise, all actions taken by the group in the absence of a quorum are considered invalid.