So, your meeting is rolling along fine. The chairperson begins on time and the preliminaries are dealt with in short order. The first topic on the order of business arrives, and the chairperson recognizes a member who makes a motion. Now what? Isn’t this where someone says, “second”? Yes. But what does that really mean? Most people know that “seconds” happen, but they’re mistaken about the actual purpose and operation of a second in the world of parliamentary procedure. Here’s some clarity on four misconceptions about seconds.

1. Every motion needs a second.

False. A main motion or resolution always needs a second when it is proposed by a single member. But no second is needed when . . .

  • A committee or the board makes a recommendation in the form of a main motion. (See points 2 and 3 below.)
  • A member states that proper parliamentary procedure is not being followed (officially named a “point of order”).
  • A member requests information.

2. You should second a motion only if you agree with it.

Not so. In parliamentary procedure, a second simply says that two members (the maker of the motion and the seconder) think a topic is worthy of discussion. The purpose of a second is to prevent one person (the maker of the motion) from single-handedly presenting a topic and potentially wasting the group’s time.

So, a second does not indicate agreement. In fact, a member could second a motion simply to give the membership an opportunity to consider the idea and reject it. (But, if it’s a public meeting and seconds are recorded, a member might not want the record to imply approval and might not, therefore, second the motion!)

What happens if the chair forgets to invite a second? A member should raise this as a point of order. But if debate begins or a vote is taken, there’s no need to backtrack and obtain a second. By then, at least two members have already indicated their agreement to consider the topic. Also, forgetting a second doesn’t invalidate a vote. Just go on.

3. Board and committee recommendations definitely need a second.

Not true. Unless a board or committee only has one member, their recommendations to the assembly do not need a second. By the time a board or committee suggests an idea to the assembly for consideration, a majority of the board or committee has approved it. Since at least two members (people on the board or committee) have already vetted the idea, it’s worthy of the group’s time.

4. You should record the name of the seconder in the minutes.

False again. Not according to Robert’s Rules, and only if your organization’s rules specifically say so. Sometimes the bylaws or procedures of a public body do require the maker of the motion and the seconder to be noted. But for non-public bodies, parliamentary procedure requires only that the name of the motion-maker is recorded in the minutes. As discussed previously, the role of a second is a narrow one, and there’s no need for any long-term record of the people that were merely responsible for facilitating the movement of an idea to the floor for discussion.