How to Undo Something an Assembly Has Voted to Do

At our next Presbytery meeting, we may very well be dealing with a motion trying to undo something we did at our last Presbytery meeting. Therefore, I am reflecting upon the motions to “rescind” and to “reconsider.” If I knew Robert’s Rules of Order better, and if every presbyter did as well, then meetings would be much more efficient and fair.

So, how do you change an action already adopted? You can either move to rescind (or to amend something previously adopted if you just want to change part), or to reconsider. Here is the difference between these two motions:

To rescind (or repeal or annul) is to cancel an order or action; the motion, resolution, rule, etc., is struck out entirely. The motion must be seconded, is debatable, and is amendable (with some restrictions). This motion requires a 2/3 vote, unless previous notice has been given. Anyone can make this motion, and there is no time limit (see below).

To reconsider is to bring back for futher consideration a motion which has already been voted on. This motion allows the body to correct hasty, ill-advised, or erroneous action, or to take into account new information or a changed situation that has developed since the vote. [These reasons are important to point out, since often one hears something like this: “But we already decided to do x.” Yes, but things change, and a body can readdress issues. The vital thing is that someone is the “historian” of the body, remembering what has already been acted upon, voted upon, decided, etc.] The motion to reconsider can only be made by a member who voted with the prevailing side (this prevents a defeated minority from using this motion in a “dilatory” (trying to cause delay) fashion, and only on the same day the vote to be reconsidered was taken (if a convention is more than one day, then you can also move this motion on the next succeeding day). If you are unable to make this motion because you voted on the side that lost, then Robert’s Rules says that you must try to persuade someone on the winning side of why they should make the motion, or obtain the floor and state reasons why you hope someone would make the motion to reconsider. This motion must be seconded, is debatable, and is not amendable. It only requires a majority vote, regardless of the vote necessary to adopt the motion to be reconsidered. It cannot be reconsidered (!!). If the motion to reconsider passes, then what happens? The question on which the vote was reconsidered is placed before the assembly again, in the exact position it occupied the moment before it was voted on originally. There are lots of further details to this motion, and special circumstances when you make it in committee.

Since assemblies aren’t infallible, these motions should probably be used more widely than they are. But again, if we knew our Robert’s Rules better, we might make more use of pertinent motions.

The Farmer


One response to this post.

  1. I know that I am pretty late on reading this post, but I wanted to thank you for writing it. I am a member of the PCA and a professional parliamentarian, so I always like to see it when church leaders and members figure out how to utilize the rules to make better decisions (or, in this case, to undo bad decisions!).

    This is a very good informative article, and I appreciate your specificity on how to use Rescind/Amend Something Previously Adopted and Reconsider.

    For what it’s worth, I have recently begun a blog about parliamentary procedure, democracy, and Christianity. I think that Christians should spend more time thinking about the relationship between these subjects, and so my blog is an attempt to do that. It is called Toward Real Liberty, based on Henry M. Robert’s famous quotation: “Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least or real liberty.” (Obviously, this is based on the refrain at the end of the book of Judges.)



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