A quorum is the minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly (a body that uses parliamentary procedure, such as a legislature) necessary to conduct the business of that group. According to Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, the "requirement for a quorum is protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons."
The term quorum is from a Middle English wording of the commission formerly issued to justices of the peace, derived from Latin quorum, "of whom", genitive plural of qui = "who". As a result, quora as plural of quorum is not a valid Latin formation.
- 1 Number constituting a quorum
- 2 Determination of a quorum and actions that may be taken in the absence of a quorum
- 3 Call of the house (compelled attendance)
- 4 Quorum-busting
- 5 Disappearing quorum
- 6 By country
- 7 Online communities
- 8 Unmet quora, fake meetings and second meetings
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Number constituting a quorum
The number of members that constitutes a quorum differs depending on the assembly and is usually provided for in that assembly's governing documents (for example, its constitution, charter, bylaws or standing orders). The quorum may also be set by law. A quorum may be a majority, some number greater than a majority, or some number less than a majority. While a majority of members is often the quorum for legislative bodies, often ordinary societies (voluntary associations) will have a smaller quorum. Robert's Rules provides that the quorum set in an organization's bylaws "should approximate the largest number that can be depended on to attend any meeting except in very bad weather or other extremely unfavorable conditions."
In the absence of such a provision in the bylaws of a society or assembly, what constitutes a quorum differs. Robert's Rules provides that in such a case, a quorum in an assembly "whose real membership can be accurately determined at any time—that is, in a body having an enrolled membership composed only of persons who maintain their status as members in a prescribed manner—the quorum is a majority of the entire membership, by the common parliamentary law." In the meetings of a convention, unless provided otherwise in the bylaws, a quorum is a majority of registered delegates, even if some have departed. In a mass meeting, or "in a regular or properly called meeting" of an organization whose bylaws do not prescribe a quorum and whose membership is loosely determined, such as many religious congregations or alumni associations, "there is no minimum number of members who must be present for the valid transaction of business, or —as it is usually expressed—the quorum consists of those who attend the meeting."
In a Committee of the Whole or its variants, a quorum is the same as the assembly unless otherwise provided in the assembly's bylaws or rules. In all other committees and boards, a quorum is a majority of the members of the board or committee unless the bylaws, the rule of the parent organization, or the motion establishing the particular committee provide otherwise. According to Robert's Rules, "a board or committee does not have the power to determine its quorum unless the bylaws so provide."
Determination of a quorum and actions that may be taken in the absence of a quorum
Robert's Rules provides that "when the chair has called a meeting to order after finding that a quorum is present, the continued presence of a quorum is presumed unless the chair or a member notices that a quorum is no longer present." The chair has a duty to declare the absence of a quorum if he notices a quorum is no longer present, "at least before taking any vote or stating the question of any new motion—which he can no longer do except in connection with the permissible proceedings related to the absence of a quorum." Any member who notices the apparent absence of a quorum can make a point of order, but he should not interrupt another member who is speaking. Debate on an already-pending question can be allowed to continue after a quorum is no longer present until a member raises a point of order. Because it is difficult to determine exactly when a quorum was lost, points of order relating to the absence of a quorum are "generally not permitted to affect prior action; but upon clear and convincing proof, such a point of order can be given effect retrospectively by a ruling of the presiding officer, subject to appeal."
When quorum is not met, the ability of a deliberative assembly to change the status quo is seriously constrained. Robert's Rules provides that "in the absence of a quorum, any business transacted is null and void," except for actions which can be legally taken: To fix the time to which to adjourn, adjourn, recess, or take measures to obtain a quorum. Measures to obtain a quorum are treated as privileged motions that take precedence over a motion to recess, are not in order when another has the floor, are not debatable, are amendable, require a majority vote, and can be reconsidered. An example of a measure to obtain a quorum is a motion that absent members be contacted during a recess.
These procedural actions are the only measures that can be legally taken; "the prohibition against transacting business in the absence of a quorum cannot be waived even by unanimous consent, and a notice cannot be validly given." Robert's Rules states that:
"If there is important business that should not be delayed, the meeting should fix the time for an adjourned meeting and then adjourn. Where an important opportunity would be lost unless acted upon immediately, the members present can, at their own risk, act in the emergency with the hope that their action will be ratified by a later meeting at which a quorum is present." If a committee of the whole finds itself without a quorum, it can do nothing but rise and report to the assembly, which can proceed as already described in this paragraph. A quasi committee of the whole or a meeting in informal consideration of a question can itself take any of the four actions permitted an assembly in the absence of a quorum, but a quasi committee of the whole is thereby ended.
The quorum requirement is enforced in several ways. Robert's Rules states that before the chair (presiding officer) calls a meeting to order, "it is his duty to determine, although he need not announce, that a quorum is present. If a quorum is not present, the chair waits until there is one, or until, after a reasonable time, there appears to be no prospect that a quorum will assemble." In that situation, the chair "calls the meeting to order and announces the absence of a quorum, and entertains a motion to adjourn or one of the other motions allowed, as described above." Meetings that are unable to transact business or lack of a quorum are considered meetings nevertheless ("if a quorum fails to appear at a regular or special meeting, "the inability to transact business does not detract from the fact that the society's rules requiring the meeting to be held were complied with and the meeting was convened—even though it had to adjourn immediately").
Call of the house (compelled attendance)
The call of the house procedure may be used if necessary to obtain a quorum in legislatures and other assemblies that have the legal power to compel the attendance of their members. The procedure does not exist in ordinary societies, since voluntary associations have no coercive power. The call of the house "is a motion that unexcused absent members be brought to the meeting under arrest." The call of the house procedure is governed by the rules of the assembly, which may provide that one-third, one-fifth, or some other number less than a majority present may order a call of the house by majority vote. Under Robert's Rules, when a quorum is not present, the motion takes precedence over every motion except that to adjourn. But "if the rule allows the call to be moved while a quorum is actually present (for the purpose of obtaining a greater attendance), the motion at such times should rank only with questions of privilege, should require a majority vote for adoption, and, if rejected, may not be renewed while a quorum is present."
When a call of the house is ordered, Robert's Rules provides that the clerk should call the roll of members and then call the names of absentees, "in whose behalf explanations of absence can be made and excuses can be requested." Following this, the doors are locked and no member is permitted to leave, and "the sergeant-at-arms, chief of police, or other arresting officer is ordered to take into custody absentees who have not been excused from attendance and bring them before the house," done on warrant signed by the presiding officer and attested by the clerk. Once arrested members are brought in, "they are arraigned separately, their explanations are heard, and on motion, they can be excused with or without penalty in the form of a payment of a fee." A member may not vote or be recognized by the chair for any purpose until he has paid the fee assessed against him.
Once a call of the house has been ordered, "no motion is in order, even by unanimous consent, except motions relating to the call." However, motions to adjourn or dispense with further proceedings under the call can be entertained "after a quorum is present or the arresting officer reports that in his opinion a quorum cannot be entertained." Adjournment terminates the call of the house.
In the United States Senate, the procedure was used in the early morning hours of February 25, 1988. Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, then the Senate Majority Leader, moved a call of the house after the minority Republicans walked out in an attempt to deny the Senate a quorum after Senate aides began bringing cots into the Senate cloakrooms in preparation for an all-night session over campaign finance reform for congressional elections. Byrd's motion was approved 45-3 and arrest warrants were signed for all 46 Republicans. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Henry K. Giugni and his staff searched the Capitol's corridor and Senate office buildings for absent Senators, and after checking several empty offices, spotted Senator Steve Symms of Idaho, who fled down a hallway and escaped arrest. After a cleaning woman gave a tip that Senator Robert Packwood of Oregon was in his office, Giugni opened the door with a skeleton key. Packwood attempted to shove the door closed, but Giugni and two assistants pushed it open. Packwood was "carried feet-first into the Senate chamber by three plainclothes officers" and sustained bruised knuckles.
Prior to 1988, the last time the procedure had been used was during a 1942 filibuster over civil rights legislation. Southern senators had spent days filibustering legislation to end poll taxes used in the South to disenfranchise blacks and other low-income voters. Taking place just days after midterm elections had resulted in the loss of nine seats. Democratic Majority Leader Alben W. Barkley obtained an order on a Saturday session on November 14, 1942 directing Sergeant at Arms Chesley W. Jurney to round up the five Southern absentees to obtain a quorum. Jurney sent his Deputy Sergeant at Arms, J. Mark Trice, to the apartment of Senator Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee at the Mayflower Hotel. Then 73 years old and the third-most senior Senator, McKellar was later described by Senator Bill Frist in his book on Tennessee senators as an "extraordinarily shrewd man of husky dimensions with a long memory and a short fuse." Trice called from the lobby, but McKellar refused to answer his phone, so the deputy sergeant at arms walked up to the apartment and convinced the senator's maid to let him in:
When Trice explained that McKellar was urgently needed back at the Capitol, the 73-year-old legislator agreed to accompany him. As they approached the Senate wing, McKellar suddenly realized what was up. An aide later recalled, "His face grew redder and redder. By the time the car reached the Senate entrance, McKellar shot out and barreled through the corridors to find the source of his summons."
Barkley got his quorum, but McKellar got even. He later convinced President Franklin Roosevelt not to even consider Barkley's desire for a seat on the Supreme Court. Such a nomination, he promised, would never receive Senate approval.
When Senate Democrats convened the following January to elect officers, a party elder routinely nominated Sergeant at Arms Jurney for another term. McKellar countered with the nomination of a recently defeated Mississippi senator. An ally of McKellar strengthened the odds against Jurney's reelection by suggesting that he had been involved in financial irregularities. As the Democratic caucus opened an investigation, Jurney withdrew his candidacy.
While no documentation of "financial irregularities" survives, Jurney had the misfortune of being caught between a frustrated majority leader and an unforgiving filibuster leader. The poll tax issue continued to spark filibusters until finally put to rest in 1964 by the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The tactic of quorum-busting—causing a quorum to be prevented from meeting—has been used in legislative bodies by minorities seeking to block the adoption of some measure they oppose. Rules to discourage quorum-busting have been adopted by legislative bodies, such as the call of the house, outlined above.
Quorum-busting has been used for centuries. For instance, during his time in the state legislature, Abraham Lincoln leapt out of a first story window (the doors of the Capitol had been locked to prevent legislators from fleeing) in a failed attempt to prevent a quorum from being present.
A recent prominent example of quorum-busting occurred during the 2003 Texas redistricting, in which the majority Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives sought to carry out a controversial mid-decade congressional redistricting bill which would have favored Republicans by displacing five Democratic U.S. Representatives from Texas (the Texas Five) from their districts. The House Democrats, certain of defeat if a quorum were present, took a plane to the neighboring state of Oklahoma to prevent a quorum from being present (and thus the passage of the bill). The group gained the nickname "the Killer Ds."
Similarly, the minority Democrats in the Texas Legislature's upper chamber, the Texas Senate, fled to New Mexico to prevent a quorum of the Senate to prevent a redistricting bill from being considered during a special session. The Texas Eleven stayed in New Mexico for 46 days before John Whitmire returned to Texas, creating a quorum. Because there was now no point in staying in New Mexico, the remaining ten members of the Texas Eleven returned to Texas to vote in opposition to the bill.
During the 2011 Wisconsin protests, fourteen Democratic members of the Wisconsin Senate went to Illinois in order to bust the necessary 20-member quorum. Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives did the same in order to block another union-related bill, causing the legislative clock on the bill to expire. Traveling out of their state placed these legislators beyond the jurisdiction of state troopers who could compel them to return to the chamber.
The similar tactic of disappearing quorum (refusing to vote although physically present on the floor) was used by the minority to block votes in the United States House of Representatives until 1890.
The practice was shattered on January 29, 1890, when a resolution was brought to the House floor that concerned who should be seated from West Virginia's 4th congressional district: James M. Jackson, the Democrat, or Charles Brooks Smith, the Republican.
The Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed put this question to the Members: "Will the House consider the resolution?" The yeas and nays were demanded with a result of 162 yeas, 3 nays, and 163 not voting. Democrats, led by Charles Crisp (who succeeded Reed as Speaker in the next two Congresses), then declared that the absence of a quorum (179 Representatives) prevented the House from making decisions. As dictated by House rules for the suggestion of the absence of a quorum, Speaker Reed began an attendance roll call - but directed the Clerk of the House to record as present any Member who was then in the chamber, whether they answered the roll call or not.
Immediately, Reed's action produced an uproar in the House. Democrats shouted "Czar! Czar!", a title that stuck to Reed for the rest of his life. "Tyranny," "scandal," and "revolution" were some of the words used to describe Reed's action. Democrats "foamed with rage," wrote historian Barbara Tuchman.
A hundred of them were on their feet howling for recognition. 'Fighting Joe' Wheeler, the diminutive former Confederate cavalry general, unable to reach the front because of the crowded aisles, came down from the rear leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag. As the excitement grew wilder, the only Democrat not on his feet was a huge representative from Texas who sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot.
Speaker Reed remained firm in the face of this parliamentary tumult and angry debate. He continued to count nonvoting legislators for quorum purposes, challenging protesters to deny their presence in the chamber. Reed even ordered the doors of the chamber locked when Democrats tried to exit; instead, Democrats began hiding under their desks, which left Reed undeterred in counting them. Finally, after five days of stridency, the contested election case was taken up and Republican Smith emerged the victor by a vote of 166 yeas, 0 nays, and 162 not voting. Then, on February 6, 1890, the Reed-led Rules Committee reported a new set of House rules. One of the new rules—Rule 15—established a new procedure for determining quorums (counting lawmakers in the chamber who had voted as well as those who did not vote).
On October 7, 1893, in the middle of a filibuster in the US Senate, the call went out for the yeas and nays. A large number of senators, however, failed to respond when the clerk called their names. The Senate’s presiding officer noted that the needed majority of members had not voted, even though there were more than a sufficient number of senators seated in the chamber to make a quorum.
When the chair once again ordered the clerk to call the roll to determine if a quorum was present, a majority of members answered to their names. However, when the roll call on the pending measure occurred, the filibustering cohort refused to vote. In one 40-hour session, this tactic produced a succession of 39 quorum calls but only four recorded votes.
In 1897, seeking to overcome the quorum busting tactics, the Senate changed its rules to effectively end the practice. This reform, however, triggered a return to an earlier tactic by recalcitrant senators of merely staying away when votes were scheduled.
In the National Council of Austria at least one third of the representatives must be present, so that they may decide on a simple law (participation quorum of 33.3%). At least half of the members must participate if a constitutional law should pass the parliament (participation quorum of 50% based on the total number of members). Over and above that, constitutional laws require the consent of at least two-thirds of the members present (quorum agreement of 66.6% based on the number of voting present).
Sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of Australia set the quorum for sittings of the House of Representatives and Senate at one-third of the whole number of MPs and senators, respectively, but Parliament is permitted to change the quorum for each House by ordinary legislation.
In the House of Representatives, the quorum was amended down to one-fifth by the House of Representatives (Quorum) Act 1989, which means the quorum of the current House of 150 MPs is 30 MPs. In the senate, the quorum was amended down to one-quarter by the Senate (Quorum) Act 1991, so 19 senators is a quorum. The quorum includes the occupant of the Chair and is not reduced by the death or resignation of a member or senator.
If at the beginning of a sitting the quorum is not met, the bells are rung for five minutes and a count is then taken; if the quorum is still not met the sitting is adjourned until the next sitting day. During the sitting, any MP or senator may draw attention to the lack of quorum in which the bells are rung for four minutes, and if a quorum is still not met the sitting is adjourned.
Although quorum-busting is virtually unheard of in Australia, it is not unknown for parties to deliberately use quorum counts as a disruptive tactic and there have been some suggestions to enact rules to restrict this practice; however, this is very difficult due to the explicit mention of a quorum in the constitution. It is considered disorderly to call attention to quorum when one exists and members or senators who do so can be punished.
In Canada, the Constitution Act, 1867 sets quorum for sittings of the House of Commons of Canada at 20 MPs. If a member calls for quorum to be counted and a first count shows there are fewer than 20 members, bells are rung to call in the members; if after 15 minutes there are still fewer than 20 members, the session is adjourned to the next sitting day; the members present sign a roll on the table of the house, and this list is included in the Journal of the House. There is no need for quorum when the attendance of the House is requested in the Senate of Canada, for example when Royal Assent is being given to bills. The quorum of the Senate is 15.
Provincial and territorial quorums
|Newfoundland and Labrador||15|
|Prince Edward Island||10|
In the German Bundestag at least half of the members (311 out of 622) must be present so that it is empowered to make resolutions. It is however common that fewer members are present, because they can still make effective decisions as long as no parliamentary group or 5% of the members of the parliament are complaining about the lack of quorum. This is in rare cases used by opposition parties to delay votes.
Article 75 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong stipulates that the quorum required for the meetings of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) as "not less than one half of its members". Since 1997 the quorum has been 30. Prior to 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, the quorum was set at 20.
The quorum for the panels, committees and subcommittees is, nevertheless, one-third or three members, whichever the greater, as according to the Rules of Procedure. The three standing committees, namely, the Finance Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and Committee on Members' Interests, is exceptional that the quorums are 9, 3 and 3 respectively.
Quorum-busting was used at least twice since 1997. In 2005, when some pro-democracy members of the council paid a silent tribute to late leader of the People's Republic of China, Zhao Ziyang, against the Rules of Procedure, the president of the council suspended the meeting. When the meeting was recalled, pro-Beijing members refused to return to the chamber, forcing the meeting to be adjourned.
On 27 January 2010, when five pro-democracy members were intending to make their resignation speeches, pro-Beijing members of the council left the chamber as a sign of protest. One of the pro-Beijing members nevertheless stayed in the chamber to call for the quorum to be counted, effectively forcing the meeting to be adjourned. The resignation was intended as a de facto referendum across all five geographical constituencies of the territory, involving the entire electorate, which would not be officially recognised anyway. Most other factions, although against the move by these five Members, stayed in the chamber.
On 2 May 2012, when the Legco was debating a law change to bar resigning legislators to participate in by-elections in 6 months, effectively discouraging any more "de facto" referenda, some of the five pro-democracy members who resigned constantly issued quorum calls, especially when they were making their resignation speeches intended for 2 years before. In the nine-hour meeting, 23 quorum calls were issued, taking up to 3 hours. When Legco reconvened on 3 May, it was adjourned for lack of quorum amid a boycott by the pan-democrats. The pro-government members drew a timetable to ensure a quorum, but it failed to prevent another lack of quorum.
Quorum-busting and attempts to thwart it are also a common feature during the annual motion debate related to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre moved by pro-democracy Members. The quorum is called to be counted from time to time by the pan-democrats, in order to force the pro-Beijing camp to keep some members in the chamber.
Article 100 of the Constitution of India stipulates that at least 10% of total number of members of the House must be present to constitute the quorum to constitute a meeting of either House of Parliament. For example, if the House has total membership of 250, at least 25 members must be present for the House to proceed with its business.
If at anytime during a meeting of a House there is no quorum, the Chairman has to either adjourn the House or suspend it until there is a quorum.
According to article 96 of the Turkish Constitution, unless otherwise stipulated in the Constitution, the Turkish Grand National Assembly shall convene with at least, one-third of the total number of members (184 out of 550) and shall take decisions by an absolute majority of those present; however, the quorum for decisions can, under no circumstances, be less than a quarter plus one of the total number of members.
Before the constitutional referendum of 2007, there was a quorum of two-third required in the Turkish Parliament. The opposition parties used the quorum to deadlock the presidential election of 2007, making it impossible for the parliament to choose a president. As a result, the ruling AK party proposed a referendum to lower the quorum. Nearly seventy percent of the participants supported the constitutional changes.
In the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Commons has a quorum of 40 MPs, including the Speaker, out of 650 members of the House. There is no need for a quorum to be present at all times. Commons debates could theoretically continue even if just one MP and the Speaker were present. However, if a division is called and fewer than 40 MPs are present, then a decision on the business being considered is postponed and the House moves on to consider the next item of business. The quorum for votes on legislation in the House of Lords is 30, but just three of the 753 peers, including the Lord Speaker, are required to be present for a debate to take place.
Historically, the Quorum was a select group of the Justices of the Peace in each county in the Early Modern Britain. In theory, they were men experienced in law, but many of the Quorum were appointed because of their status. Some legislation required the involvement of a member of the Quorum, (e.g., granting a licence to a badger). In practice, they increasingly were not qualified, as the proportion in the Quorum rose faster than proportion who were called to the bar or practising lawyers. By 1532, an average 45% of Justices of the Peace nationally were of the Quorum. In Somerset, the proportion rose from 52% in 1562 to 93% in 1636. By then, most of those not on the Quorum were new to the bench. Sometimes. Justices of the Peace were removed from the Quorum as a disciplinary measure less drastic than removal from the bench.
The large deliberative bodies of the United Nations (the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council, as well as their subsidiary organs) generally require the attendance of one-third of the membership (currently 65 states in the General Assembly and 18 in ECOSOC) to conduct most business, but a majority of members (currently 97 states in the General Assembly and 28 states in ECOSOC) in order to take any substantive decisions. The rules of the United Nations Security Council make no provisions for quorum, but nine votes are in all cases required to pass any substantive measure, effectively meaning that a meeting with fewer than nine members in attendance is pointless.
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Article I, Section 5, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution provides that "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business..." Therefore in both the House of Representatives and the Senate a quorum is a simple majority of their respective members. The only exception is that stated in the Twelfth Amendment, which provides that in cases in which no candidate for President of the United States receives a majority in the Electoral College, the election is decided by the House of Representatives, in which case "a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states," and in cases in which no candidate for Vice President of the United States has been elected, the election is decided by the Senate, in which case "a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators."
The Internal Revenue Service requires that non-profit organizations that receive tax exemptions under Section 501(c)(3) have a quorum present at their required yearly meeting. If it is not, then not only can they not vote, but they must also have another meeting so that it then takes longer for them to make decisions.[clarification needed]
When votes are held in large online communities, where it may never be the case that a majority of the members are present, the effect of quorum is different. Being absent from the vote no longer requires particular effort, but is the default case: voters are usually assumed to be absent unless they cast a vote. Online communities therefore tend to have quorums that are much less than a majority of the members.
In such votes, a non-monotonic aspect can be introduced: a voter can inadvertently swing a vote from failing to passing by voting no, if a majority has voted yes and that no vote is the one that causes quorum to be met. With no penalty for being absent, voters are faced with a strategic choice between voting no and not voting.
The Debian project has addressed this issue in its voting mechanisms with the idea of per-option quorum. A quorum is not set on the total number of votes, but on the number of votes a particular option (besides the status quo) must receive before it is considered. For example, in a yes/no vote, the quorum may say that at least 40 yes votes are required, along with yes having a majority of votes, for the vote to pass.
Unmet quora, fake meetings and second meetings
In some assemblies and associations, such a large homeowners associations, a quorum might not turn up in meetings. In absence of a method for forcing those members to attend the meetings, such assemblies can no longer make legal decisions. In turn, a provision can be made where the meeting decides to ajourn and hold a secondary meeting, where a normal majority vote, without quorum, is enough to make decisions. Such is the case in Dutch homeowners associations, where a legal quorum is required, but the secondary meeting is allowed for practical reasons.
If the problem persists, the assembly might decide that the first meetings become "fake" meetings, and only the second meeting is held. The invitation for the first meeting might contain an impractical time or location (such as at 7 am on the pavement before the home) and/or the advice to not join the meeting, with reference to a second meeting to be held at a later date.
- Quorum call
- Minyan - the quorum of 10 Jews (traditionally, ten male adults, above the age of 13) necessary for Jewish communal prayer to be conducted
- Sinclair, R. K. (1988). Democracy and Participation in Athens. Cambridge University Press. pp. 114–9. ISBN 0521423899.
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