Original Author: Ashburn, Melissa
Date of Material: 07/24/2003
Meetings--Planning and management
Boards--Laws and regulations
Reviewed Date: 07/26/2021
MTAS was asked whether a majority of the body is required to vote in the affirmative for approval of a matter, or if a majority of the quorum is sufficient.
July 24, 2003
Re: Planning Commission procedure
You have asked me whether a road closure was approved by a vote of the planning commission. It is my understanding that the commission has 7 members, 5 were present at the meeting, 3 members voted “yes,” 1 member voted “no” and 1 member abstained from the vote. The question is whether a majority of the body is required to vote in the affirmative for approval of the matter, or if a majority of the quorum is sufficient.
I did not ask you about the commission’s by-laws in our phone conversation. Most by-laws contain a statement regarding the rules of procedure, which would be controlling.
In the absence of any designation in the by-laws, the common law will apply. Tennessee Attorney General Opinion no. 94-142 explains the definition of “majority vote” in the context of school board proceedings. The opinion states:
The general rule regarding the term “majority vote” is “[w]here a majority or other proportion of votes is required without specifying whether the vote refers to the entire membership or to the members present and voting, the general rule is that the proportion refers to the number present and voting.” Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, § 510 (1989). This is the common law rule and is followed in Tennessee where the number of votes required to take an action is not specified. Collins v. Janey, 249 S.W. 801 (Tenn. 1923). Thus, in the absence of any qualifying language, the phrase “majority vote” has been interpreted to mean a “majority of the members present and voting.”
The Collins v. Janey, supra, case contains a good discussion of this issue on page 804, and also addresses the situation in which members abstain from voting. This case should be very helpful in your analysis.
I have enclosed copies of the Attorney General Opinion and Collins case for your convenience.
I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you need further assistance.
Thank you for consulting with MTAS.
Melissa A. Ashburn