Voting and Quorum Procedures in the Senate Page: 2 of 13
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Voting and Quorum Procedures in the Senate'
The Constitution states that "a Majority of each [House] shall constitute a
quorum to do business. . . ." The Senate presumes that it is complying with this
requirement and that a quorum always is present unless and until the absence of a
quorum is suggested or demonstrated. This presumption allows the Senate to
conduct its business on the floor with fewer than 51 Senators present until a Senator
"suggests the absence of a quorum."
When the absence of a quorum is suggested, the presiding officer directs the
clerk to call the roll. Except when the Senate has invoked cloture, the presiding
officer may not count to determine if a quorum is present. The Senate cannot resume
its business until a majority of Senators respond to the quorum call or unless, by
unanimous consent, "further proceedings under the quorum call are dispensed with"
before the last Senator's name has been called. If a quorum fails to respond, the
Senate may adjourn or take steps necessary to secure the attendance of enough
Senators to constitute a quorum. Usually, the Senate will then have a roll call vote
on agreeing to a motion that instructs the sergeant at arms to request the attendance
of absent Senators. The results of that vote typically establish that a quorum is
present, so the sergeant at arms rarely needs to go looking for absent Senators.
Typically, quorum calls are not used to bring Senators to the floor, but rather as
a kind of "time out" while the Senate is in session. Senators "suggest the absence of
a quorum" to suspend the Senate's formal floor proceedings temporarily. There are
many purposes for such quorum calls. For example, they can be used to permit
informal discussions that are intended to resolve a policy disagreement or procedural
problem, or to allow a Senator to reach the floor in order to make a speech or begin
consideration of a bill. When a quorum call is used for such a purpose, it usually is
ended by unanimous consent before the call of the roll has been completed.
The Constitution also provides that "the Yeas and Nays of the Members of
either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those present, be
entered on the Journal." Any Senator who has been recognized may "ask for the yeas
and nays" on whatever question the Senate is considering. If the yeas and nays are
ordered at the request of at least 11 Senators (one-fifth of the minimum quorum of
51), that determines the manner in which the vote will be conducted. The timing of
the vote is not determined by this request. A Senator may offer an amendment and
immediately ask for the yeas and nays, even if the vote is not expected to take place
until hours or days later.
If the yeas and nays are not ordered, the Senate votes on questions by voice vote.
Alternatively, if the presiding officer believes that the outcome is not in doubt, he or
she may say that, "without objection, the amendment (or motion, etc.) is agreed to."
If any Senator does object, a formal vote ensues.
This report was written by Stanley Bach, formerly a Senior Specialist in the Legislative
Process at CRS. Dr. Bach has retired, but the other listed author updated the report and is
available to answer questions concerning its contents.
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Voting and Quorum Procedures in the Senate, report, June 16, 2003; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc819657/m1/2/: accessed October 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.