[Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and the Rules of the House of Representatives, 110th Congress]
[House Document 109-157]
[Jeffersons Manual of ParliamentaryPractice]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov]
sec. xli--division of the house
This practice is provided for in different language by clause 6 of
Sec. 501. Division of the House after
determination by sound.
The affirmative and negative of the question having been both put
and answered, the Speaker declares whether the yeas or nays have it by
the sound, if he be himself satisfied, and it stands as the judgment of
the House. But if he be not himself satisfied which voice is the
greater, or if before any other Member comes into the House, or before
any new motion made (for it is too late after that), any Member shall
arise and declare himself dissatisfied with the Speaker's decision, then
the Speaker is to divide the House. Scob., 24; 2 Hats., 140.
The one party being gone forth, the Speaker names two tellers from the
affirmative and two from the negative side, who first count those
sitting in the House and report the number to the Speaker. Then they
place themselves within the door, two on each side, and count those who
went forth as they come in and report the number to the Speaker. Mem. in
A mistake in the report of the tellers may be rectified after the report
made. 2 Hats., 145, note.
* * * * *
In modern practice in the House of Commons, once the Chair determines
a sufficient request for a ``division,'' all Members leave the Chamber
and are recorded in the yes and no division lobbies. In the House of
Representatives, the provision in former clause 5 of rule I that
provided for teller votes was repealed by the 103d Congress. Under the
former procedure tellers took their place at the rear of the center
aisle when named by the Chair, and Members passed between them to be
counted but not recorded by name. Clause 1(b) of rule XX provides for
taking a recorded vote by means of the electronic voting system when
supported by one-fifth of a quorum.
declares the result. In the Senate if there be an equal division the
Secretary calls on the Vice-President and notes his affirmative or
negative, which becomes the decision of the House.
Sec. 502. Parliamentary provisions as to division,
not applicable in the House.
When the House of Commons is divided, the one
party goes forth, and the other remains in the House. This has made it
important which go forth and which remain; because the latter gain all
the indolent, the indifferent, and inattentive. Their general rule,
therefore, is that those who give their vote for the preservation of the
orders of the House shall stay in, and those who are for introducing any
new matter or alteration, or proceeding contrary to the established
course, are to go out. But this rule is subject to many exceptions and
modifications. 2 Hats., 134; 1 Rush., p. 3, fol. 92; Scob., 43, 52; Co.,
12, 116; D'Ewes, 505, col. 1; Mem. in Hakew., 25, 29.
In the House tellers were sometimes, though rarely, ordered to
determine whether one-fifth joined in the demand for the yeas and nays
(V, 6045) but in the later practice the Speaker's count is not subject
to verification (VIII, 3114-3118), and it is not in order to demand a
rising vote of those opposed on a count by the Speaker to ascertain if
one-fifth concur in demand for yeas and nays (VIII, 3112, 3113). Clause
1 of rule XX of the House provides the method for taking the yeas and
nays in the modern practice; but under clause 2 of that rule both the
yeas and nays and calls of the House are taken by means of the
electronic voting system unless the Speaker in his discretion orders the
utilization of other prescribed procedures.
Sec. 504. Voting by yeas and nays.
When it is proposed to
take the vote by yeas and nays, the President or Speaker states that
``the question is whether, e.g., the bill shall pass--that it is
proposed that the yeas and nays shall be entered on the journal. Those,
therefore, who desire it will rise.'' If he finds and declares that one-
fifth have risen, he then states that ``those who are of opinion that
the bill shall pass are to answer in the affirmative; those of the
contrary opinion in the negative.'' The Clerk then calls over the names
alphabetically, notes the yea or nay of each, and gives the list to the
President or Speaker, who
over gain. If, then, the member entering may, by speaking a few words,
occasion a repetition of a question, it would be useless to deny it on
his simple call for it.
This last position is always true when the vote is by yeas and nays;
where the negative as well as affirmative of the question is stated by
the President at the same time, and the vote of both sides begins and
proceeds pari passu. It is true also when the question is put in the
usual way, if the negative also has been put; but if it has not, the
member entering, or any other member may speak, and even propose
amendments, by which the debate may be opened again, and the question be
greatly deferred. And as some who have answered aye may have been
changed by the new arguments, the affirmative must be put
Clause 1 of rule III requires Members to vote; but no rule excludes
from voting those not present at the putting of the question, and this
requirement of the parliamentary law is not observed in the House. No
attempt is made to prevent Members from withdrawing after a question is
put, unless there be a question as to a quorum, when the House proceeds
under clauses 5 and 6 of rule XX.
Sec. 505. Parliamentary law as to giving of
In the House of Commons every member must give his vote the one way or
the other, Scob., 24, as it is not permitted to anyone to withdraw who
is in the House when the question is put, nor is anyone to be told in
the division who was not in when the question was put. 2 Hats., 140.
This rule applies in the House on a vote by division, where the
Speaker counts; but did not apply to the former vote by tellers, where
Members passed between tellers at the rear of the center aisle to be
Sec. 506. Movements of Members during
While the House is telling, no member may speak or move out of his
place, for if any mistake be suspected it must be told again. Mem. in
Hakew., 26; 2 Hats., 143.
Representatives no longer sit with their hats on (clause 5 of rule
XVII) and always rise to speak; respectfully addressing their remarks to
``Mr. Speaker'' (clause 1 of rule XVII).
But if the House be equally divided, semper presuamtur pro negante; that
is, the former law is not to be changed but by a majority. Towns., col.
Sec. 507. Decisions of points of order during a
If any difficulty arises in point of order during the division, the
Speaker is to decide peremptorily, subject to the future censure of the
House if irregular. He sometimes permits old experienced members to
assist him with their advice, which they do sitting in their seats,
covered, to avoid the appearance of debate; but this can only be with
the Speaker's leave, else the division might last several hours. 2
The House provides also by rule (clause 1 of rule XX) that in the case
of a tie vote the question shall be lost.-
Sec. 508. Decision by voice of majority; and tie
The voice of the majority decides; for the lex majoris partis is the law
of all councils, elections, &c., where not otherwise expressly provided.
Sec. 509. Twothirds votes.
The House of Representatives,
however, requires a two-thirds vote on a motion to suspend the rules
(clause 1 of rule XV), on a motion to dispense with Calendar Wednesday
(clause 6 of rule XV), on a motion to dispense with the call of the
Private Calendar on the first Tuesday of each month (clause 5 of rule
XV), and to consider a special rule immediately (clause 6 of rule XIII),
and the Constitution of the United States requires two-thirds votes for
the expulsion of a Member, passing vetoed bills, removing political
disabilities, and passing joint resolutions proposing amendments to the
Sec. 509a. Threefifths votes.
The standing rules also
require a three-fifths vote for passage or adoption of a bill, a joint
resolution, an amendment thereto, or a conference report thereon, if
carrying a Federal income tax rate increase (clause 5(b) of rule XXI).
While under the rules first adopted in the 95th Congress it is not in
order to make or entertain a point of no quorum unless the question has
been put on the pending motion or proposition, if a quorum in fact does
not respond on a call of the House or on a vote, even the most highly
privileged business must terminate (IV, 2934; VI, 662) and even debate
must stop until a quorum is established (see IV, 2935-2949). No motion
is entertained in the absence of a quorum other than a motion relating
to the call of the House or to adjourn (IV, 2950; VI, 680). Even in the
closing hours of a Congress business has been stopped by the failure of
a quorum (V, 6309; Oct. 18, 1972, p. 37199).
was remembered by the Speaker, of Mr. Morris, attorney of the wards, in
39 Eliz., who in like case changed his opinion. Mem. in Hakew., 27.
Sec. 510. Business suspended by the failure of a
When from counting the House on a division it appears that there is not
a quorum, the matter continues exactly in the state in which it was
before the division, and must be resumed at that point on any future
day. 2 Hats., 126.
The House is governed in this respect by the practice under clause 2
of rule XX.
Sec. 511. Change of a vote.
1606, May 1, on a question
whether a Member having said yea may afterwards sit and change his
opinion, a precedent