When a body is considering a proposal and an amendment to that proposal, there are three alternatives -- original proposal, amended proposal, and status quo. The only procedure I've ever seen applied is this: an up-or-down vote on the amendment (repeated if there are several amendments), followed by an up-or-down vote on the (possibly amended) proposal.

It occurs to me that this is equivalent to an election with three (or more) candidates. The above procedure, then, is an odd sort of runoff system in which one of the alternatives (status quo) is guaranteed a place in the runoff. When there is more than one amendment under consideration, it looks like a maximally unbalanced single-elimination tournament, in which the original proposal is competing from the first round and the status quo gets byes all the way to the final.

My question: has any deliberative body tried using a different voting system here instead? It would seem that any single-winner system -- condorcet, approval, whatever -- could be applied.

  • 1
    Some very significant differences are that in Parliaments a) voting is usually public b) usually known in advance and c) entails a small group of people. All of these favour engaging in deals before the votation is done, which limit the usefulness of alternative voting methods. Also, I am hard pressed of any situation were it could be three different alternatives; most of the time is "previous law" vs "new proposal". And for the amendments issue, there may be lots of these; putting each combination of these as a separate option could be chaotic.
    – SJuan76
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 22:53

2 Answers 2


While not a very lofty body, I have participated in student government deliberative bodies (with $300K of budget authority, some quasi-judicial authority, control over a fair amount of real estate and a role in institutional governance committees) with about thirty elected representatives that operated with approval voting, feminist process and an affirmative stack for recognizing people in debate.

I have also participated in institutional governance committees in charge of making resource allocation decisions (e.g. which department gets a new professor) that use voting systems other than Robert's Rules of Order or the equivalent, to make those decisions. Federal agencies making these kinds of decisions sometimes use some version of non-standard voting procedures as well, although it is uncommon. For example, sometimes each member is given X points to allocate among the available options that are collectively added up to get a total allocation.

I have also participated in bodies (mostly political and non-profit organizations) that have operated, de facto, by something close to a Quaker Meeting consensus process.

Another process that is fairly similar in practice and is much more common is for someone with decision making power to convene an advisory body for a listening session and to try to incorporate proposals that make as many people happy as possible based upon that input.

Yet another variant in smaller committees is to have a chair lead discussion and amend proposals prior to their formal consideration during discussion of the proposals and then to give the chair the authority to put any proposal that the chair deems to be ready for a vote to a formal up or down vote of the committee (often unanimous or nearly so).

SCOTUS allows matters to be taken up for consideration by a vote of four justices out of nine who can also amend the language of the proposal to be considered on certiorari.

Most voting systems have been tried somewhere, sometime, but few have had sustained popularity.


The United States Congress has used different methods. For example, there was a balanced budget amendment proposal with four options. The way that it worked, the last one that passed would win. So if the first had passed, then status quo would have been defeated immediately.

Obviously status quo won out in the end. It may have been in the other chamber. I remember the format better than I do the result. Part of the issue there is that constitutional amendments require two thirds of the vote, not just a simple majority.

In general, in the House of Representatives, they pass the rules under which they vote separately from the vote itself. They have a great deal of leeway in setting rules. And since they are so arcane, it's hard to demonize a rules vote.

Many times legislatures don't use more complicated systems like Instant Runoff Voting because they don't need to do so. They could simply vote repeatedly rather than trying to create one ballot that expresses all their preferences. I.e. they don't need to simulate a runoff with a special ballot; they could have an actual runoff. And of course, they don't have to vote on amendments at all. They can talk to each other beforehand and agree on what will be in the bill.

Amendments are often as much about political messaging as improving legislation. It's an easy deal for the leadership to offer. We'll let you vote on your amendment if you agree to vote for the final bill regardless. And that's useful to politicians. They can say that they voted for whatever it is without having to bring a separate bill to the floor. Of course, that only makes sense in places like the US, where voters choose their politicians directly. In party list countries, politicians are less concerned with how they look to voters individually and more concerned with making the party look good.

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    It's probably worth making explicit that constitutional amendments aren't amendments in the Robert's Rules of order "motion to amend" sense of changing the text of other potential legislation under consideration, but new legislation which might have to pass special procedures in order to be enacted.
    – origimbo
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 10:19
  • Congress also uses modifications of straight Robert's Rules voting like the filibuster, holds, Senatorial privilege for judicial appointments, supermajority voting on treaties, "fast track voting" without amendments and similar variants.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 22:47

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