RONR concerning electronic meetings

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The coming of the Internet and the widespread use of e-mail and the fax machine have stirred interest in the concept of an "electronic meeting." This edition notes that the opportunity for simultaneous aural communication among all participants is central to the deliberative character of a meeting. It recognizes, therefore, that meetings may be conducted by videoconference or teleconference, when authorized by the bylaws and when regulated by appropriate special rules of order and standing rules specifying such things as how recognition is to be sought and the floor obtained. On the other hand, it warns that although e-mail or faxes may provide a suitable substitute for postal mail in the issuance of calls for meetings or the conduct of mail voting, they are not suited for the conduct of the deliberative process under the precedents and procedures common to parliamentary law.

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A deliberative assembly - the kind of gathering to which parliamentary law is generally understood to apply - has the following distinguishing characteristics:
    •    It is a group of people, having or assuming freedom to act in concert, meeting to determine, in full and free discussion, courses of action to be taken in the name of the entire group.
    •    The group meets in a single room or area or under equivalent conditions of opportunity for simultaneous aural communication among all participants.

Page 2 footnote:
Efforts to conduct the deliberative process by postal or electronic mail or facsimile (fax) transmission-which are not recommended-must be expressly authorized by the bylaws and should be supported by special rules of order and standing rules as appropriate, since so many situations unprecedented in parliamentary law may arise and since many procedures common to parliamentary law are not applicable (see pp. 482-83).

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Electronic Roll-Call Vote Installation.  Various forms of electronic devices have become available to take the place of a roll-call vote. Any deliberative body can use such a system with appropriate adjustments to conform as closely as possible with the rules given above for roll-call voting procedure. When used, there is usually a presumption of technical, mechanical accuracy of the electronic system if properly used by the members. Changes of votes after the result has been announced by the chair on the allegation of machine error are not entertained. On the same grounds, a recapitulation (the secretary reading the names of those voting "aye" or "no") is not permitted. Where electronic voting is used, it should be noted that, if it is impossible to erect a display board in the hall, members of the same delegation will not be able to ascertain how other members of the delegation vote. Also, steps must be taken to prevent members from being able to vote more than once by using a neighbor's keypad, or a member lending his keypad to a friend so that the friend can vote for him in his absence by "proxy."

Pages 482-483:
The bylaws may authorize a board or committee (or even a relatively small assembly) to meet by videoconference or teleconference. If they do, then such a meeting must be conducted by a technology that allows all persons participating to hear each other at the same time (and, if a videoconference, to see each other as well). The opportunity for simultaneous communication is central to the deliberative character of the meeting, and is what distinguishes it from attempts to do business by postal or electronic mail or by fax (see p. 2). It is advisable to adopt special rules of order and standing rules, as appropriate, to specify precisely how recognition is to be sought and the floor obtained during videoconferences and teleconferences.

The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, 4th edition

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Telephone And Electronic Meetings

A regular meeting, a special meeting, or a continued meeting may be held by telephone or electronic means, provided that the procedural rules associated with such meetings are adhered to and that such meetings are authorized in the bylaws and in state law. Minor variations in meeting procedures are required because voice recognition cannot always be ascertained by telephone. These variations are:

•    A quorum is established through a roll call
•    Members always state their names before speaking
•    At the chair's discretion discussion takes place on a rotating basis
•    Votes arc taken by roll call or by general consent

Meetings held by videoconferencing are similar to meetings held by telephone, and the same rules apply.

Internet technology, including text chat lines, voice chat lines, video chat lines, and electronic mail, may also be used. Voice and video chat lines are similar to meetings held by telephone and video, and the same procedural rules apply.

As is the case with postal mail or exchanges of facsimiles, in which members are unable to communicate simultaneously with all other members, e-mail discussions cannot be easily substituted for traditional meetings, and are not meetings in the true sense. Nevertheless, e-mail is useful for rapid exchange of information and ideas, and some organizations develop special procedures to permit some decisions to be made by e-mail.

In any meeting in which the participants do not all meet in a physical location, but communicate through various technologies, the rights of absentees must be carefully protected. These include quorum requirements and the right to reasonable notice. Organizations may need to develop procedures by which members will confirm their identities in cases where visual or voice identification of each participant is not possible.  The rigidity of such procedures will depend on the technology available and the level of identification that meets the needs of the organization.

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As is the case with mail voting, voting online or by telephone may be used only if authorized in the organization's bylaws or rules.

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Can a committee meet by telephone or other electronic methods?

Yes, if the organization's bylaws provide for such meetings.  It may also be necessary to adopt special procedural rules for the conduct of such meetings. ...  The principle is that all member of the committee should be able to hear or receive all the ideas, debate, comments, etc., of every member who submits such in the same manner as a face-to-face meeting.