The thorny and controversial issue has been consuming a lot of the community’s energy over several months. A committee has researched it and reported back to the board. Homeowners have come to board meetings to lobby for and against each side. The time has come for the board to make a decision. It seems that there are board members who support each side of the issue.
As chair of the meeting, how should you handle a vote that may not be unanimous? You are afraid this meeting could drag on and on without making a decision, and you know that the board needs to get past this issue and on to other important business. Should you keep the discussion going until everyone on the board agrees? What if some board members strongly disagree with a majority vote?
Parliamentary Tip: When a vote isn’t likely to be unanimous, be sure everyone on both (or all) sides of an issue has a fair and equal opportunity to be heard and make their case BEFORE the vote. Build in enough time on the agenda to enable arguments to be made and discussed. Then double check before calling for the vote to be sure everyone has had their say. It’s a good idea to remind everyone that, once the vote is taken, debate on the issue will be over, and the outcome of the vote will be the decision of the board.
However, that does not mean you have to keep debating the issue until everyone agrees. Failing to call for a vote until you have complete agreement is a different decision-making method from democracy. And as most of us know from experience, it isn’t an efficient way to get things done. Obviously most boards prefer to act by consensus whenever possible, but in the life of most communities issues eventually arise that require a contested vote.
How do you get everyone on the board to support decisions they don’t agree with? Remind them that one of the key principles of democracy is “majority rules”. This is the way democracy works to govern a society or a homeowners association, because it enables people of good will who have differences of opinion to work together to make decisions – even tough ones – in a timely way. In a democratic society we don’t all agree with our neighbors, but we do agree to support decisions made by fair votes.
What makes votes fair, and enables us to support votes that we don’t agree with is another key principle of democracy: everyone must have an equal opportunity to be heard before they vote. Then, the outcome of the vote is final and binding as the official decision of the body (in this example, the board) that took the vote.
Democracy is an effective decision-making method because it is efficient: it enables a group of people to make a decision and move on to other important things. Remind your boards they are now working in a democratic system, and call for that vote!