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What is a Quorum Call?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A quorum call is a parliamentary procedure designed to ensure that members of a legislative body are present before a vote is passed. A quorum is defined as the minimum number of individuals who must be present for a transaction or law to be considered legal. In many legislatures, the quorum needs to be a majority: if less than 51% of the legislature is present, the legislature cannot conduct business. In a large legislature or group, it can be difficult to determine whether the quorum is present. Any legislator may request a quorum call to find out how many people are actually in attendance.

Many citizens are surprised to learn that their elected officials do not spend a great deal of time on the floor of the legislature, and that the quorum is often not actually present during the conduct of day to day business. Records on the daily attendance, along with how legislators voted, are available for most governments. If you are curious about how hard your elected official works, seek out these records to see how often attendance and votes have been recorded. The absentee rates for legislative bodies are often alarmingly high, which can be an issue during the passage of major votes.

In addition to establishing the status of the quorum, a quorum call can also be used as a stall tactic. A legislator may call a quorum call, for example, if he or she knows that an absent colleague intends to submit an amendment to the bill on the floor. The quorum call gives the other legislator time to get to the floor and speak. The interlude provided by the quorum call may also be used to conduct private business, negotiate with other members of the legislature on the floor, or to work out a problem. When a major bill is on the line, the quorum call is used to call the majority to the floor in order to ensure that the bill passes.

By custom, most legislatures assume that a quorum is present unless it is questioned by a legislator. If a quorum call determines that a quorum is not present, the situation needs to be remedied. If legislators can be found working in their offices around the building, the quorum can be re-established and the legislature can continue with its business. If a sufficient number of officials cannot be rounded up, the legislature may be forced to adjourn for the day.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Veruca10 — On Jul 14, 2011

CSpan can be a lot of fun, especially when they argue! I love when the chairman is hitting the gavel and yelling at the speaker that they are out of time and the speaker is just going on and on and ignoring him.

Makes you wonder how people get elected sometimes.

By Viktor13 — On Jul 13, 2011

@BigManCar - You're right, this is a very important concept to keep the legislature honest (at least something does that).

If you read about it, all of the parlimentary procedures they use are really interesting. The quorum call in the Senate or House is just one of the ways they can slow down, speed up, or block debate and votes on a bill.

If you watch C-Span, sometimes the pace and the way they give speeches sounds odd, because they are invoking different parts of parlimentary procedure and they have to state things in a certain way.

By BigManCar — On Jul 12, 2011

It makes sense to require something like this, so that one side or the other other cannot sneak through a bill that would not pass if the actual membership was present.

It is eye opening how few of the members of Congress or the Senate are around for any one particular session. I suppose they have a lot to do with committee meetings, visiting the home district, and different functions. I would assume they give advanced notice of votes on major issues. At least, I hope they do.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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