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Monday, July 5, 2010

A Question of Privilege

The Assembly's Civil Unions and Marriage Issues Committee just voted, 15-40-1, not to substitute the Minority Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage for the Majority Report.

Just before that, a member of the Committee moved that the vote be taken by paper ballot. It's a debatable motion, but there was a surprising amount of debate on the motion to vote by ballot. The mover had expressed how it was, for her, a highly sensitive issue, so she would feel more comfortable voting "privately."

Several other speakers expressed regret that, after many hours of debate, some of their colleagues felt the need to vote in secret.

One member said she thinks that, if even one member wants to vote by paper ballot, the body should honor that request.

Another member expressed how important it was, to him, that all committee members should exercise "the courage of our convictions" and vote publicly.

The Committee voted, by a rather lopsided margin, not to vote by ballot.

This saddens me. It seems to me this committee failed to understand the spirit of Robert's Rules. The motion to vote by ballot is a "privileged motion." Robert's assigns it a high level of priority because it protects the rights of a minority.

For some committee members who are perfectly comfortable with voting by show of hands to impose that viewpoint on a minority who aren't is to trample on an important, protected minority right. It's fundamentally an act of incivility.

Were I the Moderator of the Committee, I would have explained to the members the reason behind privileged motions, and that it ought to be only for a mighty good reason that a member's request for such a small concession to personal privilege be denied.

It's possible to imagine a situation in which a request for a paper ballot could be a bad idea. For example, repeated requests for paper ballots could be used as a delaying tactic. I suppose that's why Robert's allows for a vote at all.

Yet, this was the first such request of the day. Surely this committee could have been more respectful of the proper request of one of its members.

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