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Voting: Writing Congregational Bylaws

The definition of who is a voting member is generally handled within the membership section of the bylaws, but several other questions need to be answered. One question is what majority is required to approve a decision, including what decisions require different percentages of affirmative votes. This voting section also should clarify whether or not proxy or absentee ballots are allowed. Proxy and absentee balloting both have pros and cons.

Majority Percentage

Voting and decision making can cause problems. People of color and other historically marginalized groups in our congregations have pointed out that simple "majority rules" voting can disenfranchise them. Mandating an open discussion period or even promoting consensual decision making as a desired way to do business can help mitigate these concerns.

Sample Provisions

Example 1: A simple majority of those votes cast shall be sufficient to either approve or disapprove matters submitted for determination by vote, except for those votes taken relating to the election of a Minister as described in these bylaws. The minister of the Church shall be selected by ninety percent (90%) of those members voting in person or by absentee ballot at a congregational meeting called for such purpose.

Example 2: All voting and elections shall be determined by a simple majority of the people present and voting, except as otherwise noted in these bylaws; and except when more than one Board or Committee person is being filled, when a plurality of the people present and voting shall determine the election. Election of a new minister shall be at a congregational meeting called for that purpose. Election shall be by a three-fourths (3/4) vote of those voting members present and voting. Dismissal of a minister shall be at a special congregation meeting called for that purpose. Dismissal shall be by a majority vote of voting members present and voting.

Example 3: A majority vote of the qualified members present shall be required to carry any motion at a Regular Meeting. A sixty-six percent (66%) vote of the qualified members present shall be required to carry any motion at a Special Meeting.

Example 4: The vote on any matter shall be by written ballot on the request of any member. The exact vote on any matter shall be recorded in the minutes of the Fellowship meeting upon the request of any voting member.

Absentee and Proxy Voting

Proxy and absentee balloting allow a wider degree of participation in governance and provide access to governance for people who are not able to be present for reasons such as employment or health. Matters such as elections (where no provision for additional nominations exists) are so clearly understood that little problem occurs with absentee balloting. For other issues, however, the discussion on the floor may provide important additional information that might lead individuals to change their minds, or the motion itself may be amended in such a way that the absentee ballot would no longer be valid. Congregations have to figure out what will work best for them. Again, they must carefully note restrictions that exist in state legislation.

In some states, unless the bylaws specifically disallow proxy voting, a member is automatically entitled to vote by proxy. In some situations, however, proxy voting is not advisable. Proxy voting also is not encouraged for calling a minister. Bylaws should explicitly define matters that allow or disallow proxy voting.

Sample Provisions

Example 1: Absentee ballots shall be on such form as may be stipulated by the Steering Committee and shall be processed for consideration in such manner as may be prescribed by the Board. If the Steering Committee decides absentee ballots are not to be allowed for a given meeting, such decision must be included in the notice of meeting.

Example 2: Proxy votes shall be available to members who cannot attend a given meeting for reasons of incapacitation or travel. All proxies shall be in writing and specifically state the issue and how the proxy is to be voted. Proxies must be conveyed in duplicate, one copy to the president and one to the secretary.

For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

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