Town Meeting Terms and Guidelines


AMENDMENTS: A voter may offer an amendment to a main motion under consideration, providing the scope of the original motion is not enlarged or otherwise altered. Amendments are discussed separately from the main motion. They require a majority vote to pass.

CHECKERS: Checkers are appointed to screen those entering to make certain only voters have access to the voting area.

CONSTABLE: The constable is an elected town official in charge of posting the warrant in advance; during the meeting he may be called upon to remove unruly citizens.

LIMIT CONSIDERATION: Debate may be limited to a specific time period by a two-thirds majority vote. To “move the previous question” brings an immediate vote on a matter being considered. No debate or amendment is allowed. Requires two-thirds majority.

MODERATOR: The moderator has absolute control of the town meeting. The moderator regulates all proceedings, decides questions of order, announces all votes, and recognizes speakers from the floor.

MOTIONS: Main motions appear as articles on the town warrant. They must be made and seconded before being open for consideration.Secondary motions refer to main motions, generally amending, postponing, or limiting consideration of them.

MOTION TO WITHDRAW OR MODIFY A MOTION: One who has made the motion may wish to withdraw it. If done before it is stated to the meeting by the moderator, the speaker may withdraw it. Once stated by the moderator, the speaker must seek leave to withdraw.

NON-BINDING REFERENDUM: Normally appearing on the election ballot, this question seeks to sample public opinion but does not call for action.

QUORUM: The minimum number of voters who must be present before the meeting can transact any business. Once the quorum is established, the moderator begins the meeting. If the quorum is lost later, the meeting must adjourn until another time or be dissolved.

POINT OF ORDER: A voter may interrupt the speaker to determine the answer to questions including (1) is the speaker entitled to the floor?; (2) is what the speaker is saying, or is any pending action, indecorous, frivolous, illegal, contrary to proper procedure? “Mr. Moderator, I rise to a point of order,” is the proper form for the motion. A point of order motion does not require a second or vote; it may not be debated, amended, or reconsidered. It is decided by the moderator.

POSTPONEMENT: An article may be (1) COMMITTED or REFERRED to a committee existing or formed specifically to address the issue; (2) postponed until a definite time before the end of the meeting and returned by making a motion that it be considered; (3) LAID ON THE TABLE or TABLED. This motion must be seconded, cannot be debated, and is voted on immediately. Requires a two-thirds majority. An article not taken from the table before the meeting adjourns is dead. The motion may be reconsidered at any time during the meeting if a majority votes to do so; (4) PASSED OVER, POSTPONED INDEFINITELY, or have NO ACTION TAKEN. All are debatable, require a majority vote, and effectively defeat the motion.

RECONSIDERING AN ARTICLE ALREADY ACTED UPON: Anyone who voted on the winning side may move to reconsider the vote. Any voter may move to rescind the vote on a main motion. A two-thirds vote is required.

SPEAKERS: Those who wish to address the meeting must wait to be recognized by the moderator, state their names, and limit comments to the question under discussion. All discussion must go through the moderator. A time limit may be set.

TELLERS: Tellers are appointed to assist the moderator in counting votes.

VOTES NEEDED: Most motions are passed by simple majority vote. The following require a two-thirds majority: borrowing of money; appropriations for land purchase; land purchase for public domain; sale or abandonment of land; abandonment of projects for which funds were borrowed; zoning bylaws.

VOTING: The vote may be taken by voice, show of hands, standing, roll call, or balloting. If a vote is immediately questioned by seven or more voters, the moderator must verify the vote, generally by show of hands or standing vote. Once the moderator announces the vote tally, it becomes official and cannot be disputed.

WARRANT ARTICLES: Selectmen are responsible for placing all articles on the town meeting warrant. Departments may submit articles to the selectmen for placement on the warrant. Citizens may petition to have an article placed on the warrant by collecting 10 signatures for an annual town meeting, 100 signatures for a special town meeting.