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  • roll call is the only legal means to establish a quorum in the United States Senate and until the next roll call the quorum is assumed to be present, so that less important business may be performed even without physical presence of the whole quorum of 51 Senators?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

New York Times article March 1st, 1892
REED'S QUORUM WAS VALID New York Times news article March 1st, 1892 that explained the Rules of Congress and defining a constitutional quorum in United States v. Ballin

In law, a quorum is the minimum number of members of a deliberative body, such as a legislature, necessary to conduct the business of that group.[1] Ordinarily, this is a majority of the people expected to be there, although bodies may have a lower or higher quorum.



When quorum is not met, a legislative body cannot hold a vote, and cannot change the status quo. Therefore, voters who are in favor of the status quo are able to use an obstructive strategy called, in the United States, quorum-busting. If a significant number of voters choose not to be present for the vote, the vote will fail due to lack of quorum, and the status quo will remain.

A quorum in a legislative body is normally a majority of the entire membership of the body. If there are vacancies, that fact is not considered. Thus, a quorum of a legislative body that has 100 seats would be 51 (more than half of 100), even if some seats are vacant. In some legislative bodies, the lack of a quorum does not affect the proceedings unless a point of order is raised. In others, if a vote shows the lack of a quorum, the presiding officer must suspend proceedings (except those designed to produce a quorum or end the meeting) until a quorum appears.

United Kingdom

The House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom can decide on procedural issues with only three members present (out of 753).

A quorum in the House of Commons is forty.

There is no need for a quorum to be present at all times - in fact, Commons debates could theoretically continue even if attendance in the chamber dwindled to just one MP and the Speaker.

But if a division is called and fewer than 40 MPs are present to vote, then a decision on the business being considered is postponed and the House moves on to consider the next item of business.

Interestingly, the lack of a quorum does not lead to the suspension of the business of the House, but merely postponement of that specific business.

Justices of the Peace

The Quorum was a select group of the Justices of the Peace in each county in the Early Modern Period. In theory they were men experienced in law, but many of the quorum were appointed because of their status. Some legislation required the involvement of a member of the quorum, (e.g. granting a licence to a badger). In practice, they increasingly were not qualified, as the proportion in the quorum rose faster than proportion who were called to the bar or practising lawyers. By 1532 an average 45% of Justice of the Peace nationally were of the quorum. In Somerset the proportion rose from 52% in 1562 to 93% in 1636. By then most of those not on the quorum were new to the bench. Sometimes Justice of the Peace were removed from the quorum as a disciplinary measure less drastic than removal from the bench.[2]

United States

According to Article One of the United States Constitution, the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate each have a quorum of a simple majority of their respective members. The Senate has the additional requirement in Rule VI of its standing rules of a "majority of the members duly chosen and sworn." The only exception is when either house sits for choosing the President or Vice President when the electoral college fails to obtain a majority vote. In this exception, each house requires the presence of members from two-thirds of the states to satisfy quorum.[3]

The IRS requires 501(c)(3), non-profit organizations to have a quorum present at their required, yearly meetings. If it is not, then not only can they not vote, but they must also have another meeting.


Legislative bodies often have rules to discourage quorum-busting. In many U.S. legislative bodies, such as the United States Senate and House of Representatives, if there is no quorum present a call of the house could be ordered, which would cause absent members to be brought to the floor of the body.

A prominent example of quorum-busting occurred in 2003, when the Texas House of Representatives was going to vote on a redistricting bill that would have favored the Republicans in the state. The House Democrats, certain of defeat if a quorum were present, chose not to be present in the House that day, but instead took a plane to Oklahoma, preventing the bill from passing due to a lack of a quorum. The group gained the nickname Killer D's for their successful efforts in blocking the legislation.

The same year, the Texas Eleven, of the Texas Senate, fled to New Mexico to prevent a quorum of the Senate to prevent another redistricting bill during a special legislative session. Though the Democrats stayed in New Mexico for 46 days, one returned to Texas, creating a quorum; because there was now no point in staying in New Mexico, the Texas Eleven Minus One returned to Texas to oppose the bill with votes in opposition. The bill ultimately passed both the House and the Senate as the 2003 Texas redistricting legislation, which was ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court in 2006, though Congressional District 23 was deemed an unconstitutional case of gerrymandering.

Disappearing quorum

The technique of the disappearing quorum (refusing to vote although physically present on the floor) was used by the minority to block votes in the US House of Representatives until 1890.

The practice was shattered on January 29, 1890. On that day a resolution was brought to the House floor that concerned who should be seated from the Fourth District of West Virginia: James M. Jackson, the Democrat, or Charles B. Smith, the Republican. Speaker Thomas Reed put this question to the Members: "Will the House consider the resolution?"

The yeas and nays were demanded with this result: 162 yeas, 3 nays, and 163 not voting. Democrats, led by Charles Crisp (who succeeded Reed as Speaker in the next two Congresses), then declared that the absence of a quorum—a quorum was 179—prevented the House from making decisions. As dictated by House rules for the suggestion of the absence of a quorum, Speaker Reed began an attendance roll call - but directed the Clerk to record as present any Member who was then in the chamber, whether they answered the roll call or not.

Immediately, Reed's action produced an uproar in the House. "Tyranny," "scandal," and "revolution" were some of the words used to describe Reed's action. Democrats "foamed with rage," wrote historian Barbara Tuchman.

A hundred of them were on their feet howling for recognition. 'Fighting Joe' Wheeler, the diminutive former Confederate cavalry general, unable to reach the front because of the crowded aisles, came down from the rear leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag. As the excitement grew wilder, the only Democrat not on his feet was a huge representative from Texas who sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot.

Speaker Reed remained firm in the face of this parliamentary tumult and angry debate. He continued to count nonvoting legislators for quorum purposes. Reed even ordered the doors of the chamber locked when Democrats tried to exit; instead, Democrats began hiding under their desks, which left Reed undeterred in counting them. Finally, after five days of stridency, the contested election case was taken up and Republican Smith emerged the victor by a vote of 166 yeas, 0 nays, and 162 not voting. Then, on February 6, 1890, the Reed-led Rules Committee reported a new set of House rules. One of the new rules--Rule 15--established a new procedure for determining quorums (counting lawmakers in the chamber who had voted as well as those who did not vote).


In Canada, the Constitution Act 1867 sets quorum for sittings of the House of Commons at 20 members. If a member calls for quorum to be counted and a first count shows there are fewer than 20 members, bells are rung to call in the members; if after 15 minutes there are still fewer than 20 members, the session is adjourned to the next sitting day; the members present sign a roll on the table of the house, and this list is included in the Journal of the House. There is no need for quorum when the attendance of the House is requested in the Senate, for example when Royal Assent is being given to bills.[4]


Sections 22 and 39 of the Australian Constitution set the quorum for sittings of the House of Representatives and Senate at one-third of the whole number of MPs and senators respectively. Parliament is permitted to change the quorum for each House by ordinary legislation.

In the House of Representatives, the quorum was amended down to one-fifth by the House of Representatives (Quorum) Act 1989, which means the quorum of the current House of 150 Members is thus 30 Members[5]. In the senate, the quorum was amended down to one-quarter by the Senate (Quorum) Act 1991, that is, 19 senators are required to meet the quorum.[6] The quorum includes the occupant of the Chair and is not reduced by the death or resignation of a member or senator.

If at the beginning of a sitting the quorum is not met, the bells are rung for five minutes and a count is then taken; if the quorum is still not met the sitting is adjourned until the next sitting day. During the sitting, any MP or senator may draw attention to the lack of quorum in which the bells are rung for four minutes, and if a quorum is still not met the sitting is adjourned.

Although quorum-busting is virtually unheard of in Australia, it is not unknown for parties to deliberately use quorum counts as a disruptive tactic and there have been some suggestions to enact rules to restrict this practice; however, this is very difficult due to the explicit mention of a quorum in the constitution. It is considered disorderly to call attention to quorum when one exists and members or senators who do so can be punished.

Hong Kong

Article 75 of the Basic Law stipulates that the quorum required for the meetings of the territory's Legislative Council as "not less than one half of its members". Since 1997 the quorum has been 30. Prior to 1997 transfer of the sovereignty of the territory, the quorum was set at 20.

The quorum for the panels, committees and subcommittees is, nevertheless, one-third or three members, whichever the greater, as according to the Rules of Procedures. The three standing committees, namely, the Finance Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and Committee on Members' Interests, is exceptional that the quorums are 9, 3 and 3 respectively.

Quorum busting was used at least twice since 1997. In 2005, when some self-professed pro-democracy members of the council paid a silent tribute to late leader of the People's Republic of China, Zhao Ziyang, against rules of procedure, the president of the council suspended the meeting. When the meeting was recalled, pro-Beijing members refused to return to the chamber, forcing the meeting to be adjourned.

On 27 January 2010, when five radical self-professed pro-democracy Members were intending to make their resignation speeches, pro-Beijing members of the council left the chamber as a sign of protest. One of the pro-Beijing members nevertheless stayed in the chamber to call for the quorum to be counted, effectively forcing the meeting to be adjourned. The resignation was intended as a de facto referendum across all 5 geographical constituencies of the territory, involving the entire electorate, which would not be officially recognised anyway. Most other factions, although against the move by these five Members, stayed in the chamber.

Quorum busting and attempts to thwart it are also a common feature during the annual motion debate related to 1989 Tiananmen incident moved by a self-professed pro-democracy Member. The quorum is called to be counted from time to time by the Member's comrades, in order to force the pro-Beijing camp to keep some members in the chamber.

Ordinary societies

In an ordinary society (such as a local club) that follows Robert's Rules of Order, if the quorum is not specified in the organization's bylaws, it is a majority of the members[7]. This can cause problems because, in most such organizations, only a smaller portion of the membership usually comes to meetings, and without a quorum, no business may be done. It may be impossible to correct this problem within the bounds of parliamentary procedure. For this reason, it is a good idea to include a provision in the bylaws setting the quorum at some smaller number.

Online communities

When votes are held in large online communities, where it may never be the case that a majority of the members are "present", the effect of quorum is different. Being absent from the vote no longer requires particular effort, but is the default case: voters are usually assumed to be absent unless they cast a vote. Online communities therefore tend to have quorums that are much less than a majority of the members.

In such votes, a non-monotonic aspect can be introduced: a voter can inadvertently swing a vote from failing to passing by voting "no", if a majority has voted "yes" and that "no" vote is the one that causes quorum to be met. With no penalty for being absent, voters are faced with a strategic choice between voting "no" and not voting.

The Debian project has addressed this issue in its voting mechanisms with the idea of per-option quorum. A quorum is not set on the total number of votes, but on the number of votes a particular option (besides the status quo) must receive before it is considered. For example, in a yes/no vote, the quorum may say that at least 40 "yes" votes are required, along with "yes" having a majority of votes, for the vote to pass.

The political simulator, NationStates, and its fictional legislation, the World Assembly utilizes a 6% quorum of Regional Delegates to approve proposals.


Sub-Quorum is a method, permitted by the governing rules of some organizations, allowing meetings to make decisions with only half the required number of people present. A decision made using Sub-Quorum would have to be ratified at a meeting with a full quorum. The system is widely used in Student Unions.[1]


The word "quorum" is Latin, genitive plural of the relative pronoun qui, and means "of whom", taken from a phrase meaning "of whom such-a-number must be present".


Quorum, n. A sufficient number of members of a deliberative body to have their own way and their own way of having it. In the United States Senate a quorum consists of the chairman of the Committee on Finance and a messenger from the White House; in the House of Representatives, of the Speaker and the devil.

See also


  1. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2005). Blacks Law Dictionary, Abridged Eight Edition. Thomson / West. p. 1042. ISBN 0-314-15863-4. 
  2. ^ Gleason, J.H. The Justice of the Peacein England 1558-1640, Oxford, 1969
  3. ^ U.S. Const. amend. XII.
  4. ^ Marleau, Robert, and Camille Montpetit, eds. House of Commons Procedure and Practice. 2000 ed. Accessed 13 June 2008.
  5. ^ Guide to Procedures
  6. ^ Chapter 8, Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Eleventh Edition
  7. ^ "In any other deliberative assembly with enrolled membership whose bylaws do not specify a quorum, the quorum is a majority of all the members." — Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA, 2000, page 335, lines 12-14.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

QUORUM (Lat. for "of whom"), in its general sense, a term denoting the number of members of any body of persons whose presence is requisite in order that business may be validly transacted by the body or its acts be legal. The term is derived from the wording of the commission appointing justices of the peace which appoints them all, jointly and severally to keep the peace in the county named. It also runs - "We have also assigned you, and every two or more of you (of whom [quorum], any one of you the aforesaid A, B, C, D, &c., we will shall be one) our justices to inquire the truth more fully," whence the justices so-named were usually called justices of the quorum. The term was afterwards applied to all justices, and subsequently by transference, to the number of members of a body necessary for the transaction of its business. No general rule can be laid down as to the number of members of which a quorum should consist; its size is usually prescribed by definite enactment or provision; it is entirely a matter for self-constituted bodies as to what their quorum shall be, and it usually depends on the size of the body. In bodies which owe their existence to an act of the legislature, the necessary quorum is usually fixed by statute. In England, in the House of Lords, three form a quorum, though on a division there must be thirty members present. In the House of Commons, forty members, including the Speaker, form a quorum. The quorum of a standing committee of the House of Lords is seven, and of the House of Commons, twenty.

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