Order Code 96-452 GOV
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Voting and Quorum Procedures
in the Senate
Updated June 16, 2003
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Voting and Quorum Procedures in the Senate1
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.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
The Quorum Requirement and Quorum Calls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Routine Quorum Calls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Live Quorum Calls, Failed Quorums . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Securing and Conducting Rollcall Votes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Voice and Division Votes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Ordering the Yeas and Nays . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Conducting Rollcall Votes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Simple and Extraordinary Majorities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Voting and Quorum Procedures
in the Senate
The rules and practices of the Senate governing quorums and voting are
grounded in Article I of the Constitution. Regarding quorums, clause 1 of Section
5 states in part that “a Majority of each [House] shall constitute a Quorum to do
Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized
to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such
Penalties as each House may provide.” Regarding voting, clause 3 of the same
section provides in part 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
This report discusses how the Senate now interprets and implements these two
constitutional provisions.2 What follows focuses on the most important rules and the
most common practices; it does not attempt to cover all the precedents the Senate has
established or all the procedures that may be invoked.3 This report also assumes a
familiarity with some other aspects of the Senate’s floor procedures.
The Quorum Requirement and Quorum Calls
A straightforward reading of the Constitution’s quorum requirement would
seem to require a simple majority of Senators, or a minimum of 51 if there are no
vacancies in the body, to be present on the floor whenever the Senate conducts
business. As any observer of the Senate soon notices, typically only a handful of
Senators are present during floor debates. It is unusual for as many as 51 Senators
to be present on the floor at the same time unless a rollcall vote is in progress.
As a regular practice, however, the Senate presumes that it is complying with
the Constitution. Therefore, it presumes that a quorum always is present unless and
until the absence of a quorum is suggested or demonstrated:
The corresponding House rules, precedents, and practices are discussed in CRS Report 98988, Voting and Quorum Procedures in the House of Representatives.
On quorums and quorum calls generally, see Rule VI and U.S. Congress, Senate, Riddick’s
Senate Procedure, 101st Cong., 2d sess., Doc. 101-28, pp. 1038-1078. On voting
procedures generally, see Rule XII and Riddick’s Senate Procedure, pp. 1397-1436.
The Senate operates on the presumption that a quorum is present at all times,
under all circumstances, unless the question to the contrary is raised, or the
absence of a quorum is officially shown, or until a point of no quorum is made
even though a voice vote is taken and announced in the meantime.4
Under the Senate’s standing rules, if no other Senator has the floor,5 any Senator
(including a Senator who is presiding) may “suggest the absence of a quorum.”6 The
presiding officer may not respond to this statement by counting the number of
Senators actually present, unless the Senate is operating under cloture.7 At all other
times, when a Senator suggests the absence of a quorum, the presiding officer
responds by directing the clerk to call the roll. Paragraph 3 of Rule VI requires that:
If, at any time during the daily sessions of the Senate, a question shall be raised
by any Senator as to the presence of a quorum, the presiding officer shall
forthwith direct the Secretary to call the roll and shall announce the result, and
these proceedings shall be without debate.
A quorum call formally begins when the clerk calls the first name. Once the
quorum call has begun, the Senate may not resume the conduct of business until a
majority of Senators respond to this call, or unless the Senate agrees by unanimous
consent to “dispense with further proceedings under the quorum call.” While the
quorum call is in progress, no debate or motion is in order, nor may the Senate act on
any unanimous consent request except a request to dispense with the call.
Routine Quorum Calls
Quorum calls in the Senate usually are not intended to secure the presence of
Senators on the floor. Instead, they are a useful and essential device by which the
Senate can suspend its formal proceedings temporarily. During the course of any
session, Senators often “suggest the absence of a quorum.” Later, but before the
clerk has completed the alphabetical call of the roll, the Senate agrees to a unanimous
consent request to rescind the quorum call. A quorum call of this kind may last for
only moments or it may continue for an hour or more. The clerk calls the names of
Senators very slowly because it is not really the intent of the Senate to demonstrate
a quorum, rather the goal is to get a time out from the formal floor proceedings.
Because most quorum calls are intended to suspend the Senate’s floor
proceedings, Senators feel under no obligation to come to the floor to record their
presence. So long as the Senate agrees by unanimous consent to dispense with the
Riddick’s Senate Procedure, pp. 1041-1042.
“One Senator cannot take another off the floor to suggest the absence of a quorum, nor can
a Senator who has the floor be interrupted by another against his consent for a quorum call.
A quorum call is not in order when the Senator holding the floor declines to yield for that
purpose.” Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 1055.
For more on when a Senator may suggest the absence of a quorum, see Riddick’s Senate
Procedure, pp. 1062-1065.
“Cloture is the means by which the Senate limits debate on a measure or matter,” Riddick’s
Senate Procedure, pp. 282-334.
quorum call before the last Senator’s name is called, the Senate can resume its
business, because the absence of a quorum has not actually been demonstrated. The
presumption that a majority of Senators is present remains in force unless and until
the call of the roll is completed and less than a majority of Senators have responded.
Only then would it be demonstrated that the Senator was correct when he or she
“suggested” the absence of a quorum.
There are many reasons why Senators initiate quorum calls of this kind. For
example, if a Senator completes a statement and notices that no one else is on the
floor and seeking recognition, the Senator typically suggests the absence of a
quorum. When another Senator then does appear and wishes to speak, he or she first
asks unanimous consent to dispense with the quorum call that is in progress.
Alternatively, a quorum call may take place while the Senate awaits the arrival of a
Senator who is expected on the floor to manage a bill, offer an amendment, or make
a speech. When that Senator arrives, the Senate dispenses with the quorum call by
unanimous consent and proceeds with its business as planned.
Quorum calls also create a valuable opportunity for informal discussions and
negotiations among Senators. When the Senate Majority Leader is trying to win the
approval of his colleagues for a unanimous consent agreement on a particular bill,
and a Senator objects to the unanimous consent request, the leader will frequently
suggest the absence of a quorum and allow a quorum call to begin. Then, he can
speak directly with the Senator who had objected and find out if they can reach an
agreement on the issue, so as to allow the unanimous consent agreement to proceed.
The Senate’s rules, and especially the opportunities they create for filibusters,
provide powerful incentives for Senators to seek the widest possible agreement on
the Senate’s schedule as well as its policy decisions. Under most circumstances, any
Senator can conduct a filibuster against any measure or amendment or even against
the motion that the Senate begin floor consideration of a particular bill or resolution.
This situation encourages Senators to seek the most generally acceptable solutions
to procedural problems and policy disagreements. In seeking these solutions, it often
is more convenient for Senators to engage in the necessary discussions and
negotiations in an informal manner, rather than under the rules of formal Senate
debate. Quorum calls allow for such informal consultations, which may take place
either on or off the Senate floor.
When the Senate finds itself confronted with a procedural problem or policy
disagreement, a Senator often will respond by suggesting the absence of a quorum
in the hope that the matter can be resolved through informal conversations. When
the conversations end, the Senate agrees to a unanimous consent request to terminate
the quorum call; the Senate’s formal proceedings then resume. If the discussions
were successful, a Senator may make a motion or unanimous consent request that
embodies whatever decision was reached during the quorum call. If the discussions
were inconclusive, a Senator may report on the progress that was made and then
again suggest the absence of a quorum so that the negotiations can resume.
Because of quorum calls, the Senate’s floor proceedings often have an
unpredictable, “stop-and-go” character. Its debates frequently are punctuated by
quorum calls. On occasion, the Senate even may spend much of the day in quorum
calls. This frequent apparent lack of action does not mean that Senators are not
considering legislation while the quorum calls are in progress. It is quite likely that
many Senators are discussing the bill at issue or the procedures for considering it.
However, they are doing so informally (and off the public record), whether on or off
the Senate floor. In fact, it sometimes seems that the more contentious the issue the
Senate is considering, the more time is consumed by quorum calls.
There are two circumstances under which a Senator may not be able to initiate
a quorum call when no one else has control of the floor. First, when the Senate is
operating under cloture, a Senator may suggest the absence of a quorum, but the
presiding officer is empowered to respond by counting to determine whether or not
a quorum actually is present. Only if he or she finds that a quorum is not present
does the presiding officer direct the clerk to call the roll. Also under cloture, the
presiding officer may decline to entertain quorum calls on the ground that they are
suggested for dilatory purposes, an authority that is likely to be exercised only under
Second, when the Senate is operating under a time agreement, only a Senator
who controls some of the time for debate may suggest the absence of a quorum. A
time agreement is a unanimous consent agreement that limits and allocates control
of the time for debating the pending question. The time consumed by the quorum
call is charged to the Senator who suggested the absence of a quorum (unless the
Senate agrees otherwise by unanimous consent). For this reason, the Senate’s
precedents indicate that a Senator must control at least 10 minutes of remaining time
in order to initiate a quorum call; this requirement evidently is intended to reflect
some reckoning of how long a quorum call is expected to last.8
Live Quorum Calls, Failed Quorums
The alternative to the kind of routine quorum calls discussed above is a “live”
quorum call in which Senators actually are requested to come to the floor and record
There are three circumstances under which live quorum calls are most likely to
occur. First, the Senate’s rules provide for a live quorum call immediately preceding
any cloture vote, and before the Senate acts on a unanimous consent request to set a
date for voting on whether to pass a bill or joint resolution. Both these quorum calls
may be dispensed with by unanimous consent, which is frequently done when setting
a date for a vote and sometimes done prior to cloture.
Second, the majority leader occasionally suggests the absence of a quorum and
announces that the quorum call is to be live because he wishes to bring Senators to
“But, it has been equally well established by the precedents that any Senator has a right to
call for a quorum before a vote begins even if that Senator controlled no time, or even if
there was an order that a vote occur at a time certain. However, certain unanimous consent
agreements have been interpreted to preclude quorum calls.” Riddick’s Senate Procedure,
p. 1038. For more on initiating quorum calls under time agreements and charging the time
they consume, see ibid., pp. 1066-1071.
the floor for some reason. Third, should the clerk complete calling the roll for a
routine quorum call without a majority of Senators having responded to their names,
the quorum call may become a live one.
In the case of a live quorum call, the clerk calls Senators’ names more quickly.
At the end of the call, the Senate resumes its business if a majority of Senators have
responded. However, if the clerk finishes calling the roll and the presiding officer
announces that a majority of Senators have failed to respond, the Senate cannot
resume its business, including debate, nor can it dispense with the quorum call by
unanimous consent, because the absence of a quorum has been established.
In that event, the Senate usually has only two options: to adjourn or to take
steps necessary to establish a quorum.9 The usual recourse is for the majority leader
to make a motion directing the sergeant at arms to request the attendance of absent
Senators.10 A rollcall vote is ordered on this motion and, almost invariably, a
majority of Senators do come to the floor to vote on the motion; in the process, they
demonstrate the presence of a quorum. “Then no further action on the quorum call
is necessary, a quorum having been established.”11
If a quorum fails to vote, the Senate can, by motion, direct its sergeant at arms
to compel the attendance of absent Senators or even to arrest absentees in order to
establish a quorum.12 In modern practice, however, it rarely is necessary for the
Senate to resort to such motions.
Generally, once a quorum is established as a result of a rollcall vote or a live
quorum call, the Senate must transact some business before another quorum call is
in order.13 However, if the Senate dispenses with a quorum call by unanimous
consent before it is completed, a Senator again may suggest the absence of a quorum
without business having intervened.
Under paragraph 4 of Rule VI, the Senate also may consider and agree to a motion “to
recess pursuant to a previous order entered by unanimous consent.”
“[I]t is the practice in the Senate for the presiding officer to direct the clerk to call the
names of the absent Senators prior to the adoption of an order directing the sergeant at arms
to request, and, when necessary, to compel their attendance, but such practice is based on
custom, and not on the requirement of any rule.” Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 216.
Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 223.
Under the constitutional authority quoted at the beginning of this report, a quorum need
not vote on any motion to secure the attendance of absent Senators. For more on securing
the attendance of absent Senators, see Riddick's Senate Procedure, pp. 214-224.
For a discussion of what does and does not constitute business for this purpose, see
Riddick’s Senate Procedure, pp. 1042-1046.
Securing and Conducting Rollcall Votes
There are three ways in which the Senate can conduct votes on the floor: by
voice vote, by division vote, or by rollcall vote. In practice, contested questions
usually are decided by rollcall votes; many uncontested questions are decided
“without objection” and without the formality of even a voice vote.
Voice and Division Votes
Unless a rollcall vote has been ordered in advance, any question first is to be put
to a voice vote. The presiding officer asks those in favor to respond “Aye,” and then
those opposed to respond “No,” and then announces the result. At that time, any
Senator may request either a division vote or a rollcall vote. In the case of a division
vote, those in favor stand and are counted, followed by those opposed. The presiding
officer then announces which side has prevailed but does not announce the number
of Senators voting for or against. Division votes are relatively unusual in current
Senate practice and are not formally authorized by the Senate’s rules.14
A voice or division vote is considered valid, no matter how many or how few
Senators participated, unless a Senator takes the initiative to challenge the vote,
before the result is announced, for violating the constitutional requirement that a
quorum must be present for the Senate to do business:
Until a point of no quorum has been raised, the Senate operates on the
assumption that a quorum is present, and even if only a few Senators are present,
a measure may be passed or a nomination agreed to… Voice votes may be taken
on the passage of a bill and if no question of a quorum is raised, that action is
final, even though a majority of the Senators did not participate; the Senate
operates on the absolute assumption that a quorum is always present until a point
of no quorum is made. 15
Ordering the Yeas and Nays
Although a Senator may ask for a rollcall vote on a question after a voice or
division vote has been conducted (but before the final result has been announced),
rollcall votes usually are ordered in advance. At any time that a bill, amendment,
motion, or other matter actually is the pending question before the Senate, a Senator
who has the floor may “ask for the yeas and nays” on it.16 As noted at the beginning
of this report, the Constitution provides for the yeas and nays (a rollcall vote) to be
ordered at the request of one-fifth of those present. Because of the other
“There is no authority in the rules of the Senate for the method of voting by a division; the
method is intended to advise the presiding officer whether or not the majority of the
Senators present favor or oppose a given question; and the judgment of the Chair may be
questioned by a resort to a rollcall,” Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 1404.
Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 1038.
Riddick's Senate Procedure, p. 1419. A Senator loses the floor when he or she asks for
the yeas and nays.
constitutional requirement—that a quorum must be present to conduct business—the
Senate assumes that those present constitute a quorum, and so requires that the
request for a rollcall vote must be supported by at least one-fifth of the smallest
Consequently, at least 11 Senators—one-fifth of the minimal quorum of 51
Senators—must raise their hands to support a request for a rollcall vote.18 If there is
sufficient support, the Senate thereby determines that the question then pending
before the Senate will be decided by a rollcall vote whenever the time for voting
Ordering the yeas and nays on a question does not bring about an immediate
vote, nor does it have any effect at all on when the vote will occur, the motion only
controls how the vote will be conducted when it does occur.19 It is not at all unusual,
for example, for a Senator to offer an amendment and then immediately ask for the
yeas and nays on that amendment even before the debate on it has commenced.20 The
actual vote may not take place until hours or even days later, or it may not take place
at all if, for example, the Senate votes instead to lay the amendment on the table (and
thereby kill it).
In principle, the support of more than 11 Senators sometimes may be required
to order a roll call. If a previous rollcall vote had taken place “recently,”21 there is
precedent for assuming that all the Senators who participated in that vote remained
on the floor, so one-fifth of that number may be required to order the subsequent roll
call. This precedent is rarely invoked.
If the required number of Senators fail to support a request for a rollcall vote,
any Senator may renew the request (as often as necessary) at any time before the
question is put to a vote. When a Senator is insistent on having a rollcall vote on
In the absence of a quorum, however, one-fifth of the Senators present may demand the
yeas and nays on any of the few motions that are in order, such as the motion to adjourn.
It is within the discretion of the chair to decide whether a there is a sufficient second to
order a rollcall vote, and, in practice, votes are frequently ordered when there do not appear
to be 11 Senators on the floor to support such a request. But it is up to the chair to make that
decision, and “It is not customary for the Chair to announce the number of Senators who
held up their hands to order the yeas and nays,” Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 1418.
Ordering the yeas and nays on an amendment does not preclude a Senator from moving
to table the amendment. The yeas and nays have to be ordered separately on the tabling
Before the Senate orders the yeas and nays on an amendment, the Senator who offered it
may modify or withdraw it as a matter of right. After the yeas and nays have been ordered,
the Senator loses the right to modify or withdraw the amendment but gains the right to offer
an amendment to his or her own amendment.
“[T]he Chair makes his calculations of one-fifth of those present on the basis of the
number who voted at the last rollcall, if that occurred recently.” Riddick’s Senate
Procedure, p. 1418. For example, “[a] demand for the yeas and nays immediately following
a call of the Senate is seconded by one-fifth of those answering such call, or immediately
following a yea and nay vote, seconded by one-fifth of those voting.” Ibid., p. 1417.
some motion, amendment, or measure, the Senate usually will support his or her
Conducting Rollcall Votes
If a roll call has been ordered, when the time to vote arrives, the presiding
officer states that “the yeas and nays have been ordered and the clerk will call the
roll.” The clerk proceeds to do so and the vote is deemed to have begun only after
a Senator actually votes when his or her name is called. At that time, a system of
bells and lights is activated throughout the Senate wing of the Capitol building and
the Senate office buildings to inform Senators that they have 15 minutes in which to
come to the floor and vote. The bells ring again as a reminder when half of this time
has expired. The 15-minute period for voting is set by a unanimous consent
agreement, normally on the first day each Congress meets.
During a rollcall vote, the clerk calls the names of all Senators in alphabetical
order, and then reads the names of those voting in the affirmative followed by those
voting in the negative. Thereafter, when another Senator wishes to vote, he or she
comes to the well (the open area between the rostrum and Senators’ desks); the clerk
calls the Senator’s name and then repeats the Senator’s vote. Senators coming to the
well frequently consult tally sheets kept at the tables staffed by Republican and
Democratic floor aides in order to observe how their colleagues are voting.22
Every Senator is expected to vote on each roll call unless, under paragraph 3 of
Rule XII, “he believes that his voting on such a matter would be a conflict of
interest.” If a Senator declines to vote for any other reason, paragraph 2 of the same
rule prescribes a procedure for the Senator to explain his or her reason and for the
Senate to decide if that reason is sufficient; this procedure is very rarely invoked.
For a rollcall vote to be constitutionally valid, a majority of Senators must vote,
answer “Present,” or announce that they have live pairs and refrain from voting for
that reason.23 If less than a majority is present on a rollcall vote, a quorum call
usually ensues. Once a quorum is established, a new vote takes place on the question
before the Senate (in other words, the question is put de novo).24
Senators are required to vote from their desks, but this requirement rarely is enforced. On
occasion, when a vote of special constitutional importance, such as a vote to convict in an
impeachment trial, is about to begin, the majority leader will ask all Senators to come to the
floor before the vote begins and then to vote from their desks, each Senator rising and
responding when his or her name is called. See Riddick’s Senate Procedure, pp. 1403-1404.
Pairing is a voluntary arrangement between individual Senators to offset their votes on a
rollcall vote, so that if one of the Senators needs to be absent it is offset by another member
who does not cast his vote. “When less than a quorum votes, but the addition of names of
Senators present and paired and announcing votes made a quorum, the vote is valid.”
Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 1431.
“A yea and nay vote by less than quorum is not valid unless a sufficient number is present
and paired to make a quorum.” Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 1075. “Where less than a
quorum votes, as disclosed by a yea and nay vote, the next business is for the presiding
The presiding officer may announce the result of the vote at any time after the
15-minute period and after inquiring whether there are other Senators in the chamber
wishing to vote. Alternatively, any Senator may demand the “regular order,” which
would be to announce the result of the vote. With the guidance of the majority
leader, however, the time for voting often is extended long enough to allow as many
Senators as possible to reach the floor and vote. On occasion, votes have been left
open well beyond the prescribed 15-minute period in order to accommodate Senators
who are hurrying to Capitol Hill from other locations.
A Senator may not have his or her vote recorded after the result of a rollcall vote
has been announced. By unanimous consent, however, the Senate may a permit a
Senator who has voted to change or withdraw that vote. Paragraph 1 of Rule XII
states in part that:
no Senator shall be permitted to vote after the decision shall have
been announced by the presiding officer, but may for sufficient
reasons, with unanimous consent, change or withdraw his vote. No
motion to suspend this rule shall be in order, nor shall the presiding
officer entertain any request to suspend it by unanimous consent.
If the yeas and nays are not ordered on the pending question, that usually
indicates that there is no uncertainty among Senators about what the outcome will be.
In that case, when the time comes to act, the presiding officer often states that,
“without objection, the amendment is agreed to” (or the bill is passed, etc.). “This
is merely an abbreviated way of putting the question on a voice vote, and does not
imply that the proposition can be defeated by one objection. However, any Senator
may object to putting the question in this manner,”25 in which case the question is
decided by voice, division, or rollcall vote.
Immediately after the presiding officer announces the result of a vote, one
Senator often makes a motion to reconsider, another (or even the same Senator)
moves to lay that motion on the table, and the presiding officer announces that,
without objection, the motion to table is agreed to. The Senate’s rules allow it one
opportunity to reconsider most of the votes it takes. A motion to reconsider may be
made only by a Senator who voted on the prevailing side or a Senator who did not
vote. When such a motion is made and the Senate then agrees to table (or kill) it, that
consumes the one opportunity to reconsider, and makes the result of the vote final.
In most cases, a motion to reconsider is made and tabled routinely; in the case of a
very close and seriously contested rollcall vote, however, there may be another roll
call in connection with a reconsideration motion.26
officer to direct a call of the roll to develop a quorum.” Ibid., p. 1064. Alternatively, the
Senate may vote to adjourn.
Riddick's Senate Procedure, p. 1397.
See Rule XIII and Riddick's Senate Procedure, pp. 1124-1149, for more on
Simple and Extraordinary Majorities
All questions are to be decided on the Senate floor by simple majority vote
unless some constitutional provision or Senate rule or precedent provides otherwise.
A simple majority vote is defined as at least 50% plus one of the Senators voting,
provided that a quorum is present.
The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to
expel a Senator,
override a presidential veto,
adopt a proposed constitutional amendment,
convict upon impeachment,
give the Senate’s advice and consent to ratification of a treaty,
determine that a president remains disabled, and
remove political disabilities (now obsolete).
The Senate’s precedents require the support of two-thirds of those voting, a
quorum being present, to suspend the rules or to postpone indefinitely the
consideration of a treaty. To invoke cloture (under Rule XXII), a vote of three-fifths
of the Senators duly chosen and sworn usually is required; however, on a measure
or motion to amend the Senate rules, cloture requires a vote of two-thirds of the
Senators present and voting. Also under cloture, the 30 hours available for postcloture consideration may be extended by a vote of three-fifths of all Senators duly
chosen and sworn.
Finally, the Senate currently requires a vote of three-fifths of all Senators duly
chosen and sworn to set aside various procedures and prohibitions of the
congressional budget process, either by agreeing to motions waiving them or by
overturning rulings of the Chair on appeal. These budget process requirements are
itemized and discussed in CRS Report 97-865, Points of Order in the Congressional
Budget Process, by James V. Saturno.