A voice vote (or viva voce, from the Latin, "live voice") is a voting method used by deliberative assemblies (such as legislatures) in which a vote is taken on a topic or motion by responding verbally.
The voice vote, or acclamation, is considered the simplest and quickest of voting methods used by deliberative assemblies. The presiding officer or chair of the assembly will put the question to the assembly, asking first for all those in favor of the motion to indicate so verbally ("aye" or "yes"), and then ask second all those opposed to the motion to indicate so verbally ("no"). The chair will then make an estimate of the count on each side and state what he or she believes the result to be. Since in close cases this can be imprecise, typically if there is any doubt as to the outcome any member of the assembly may request another vote by a method such as division of the assembly (a standing or rising vote), or a roll call vote. Voice votes are usually not recorded, while others are.
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (10th edition) provides that:
- A vote by voice is the regular method of voting on any motion that does not require more than a majority vote for its adoption. In taking a voice vote, the chair puts the question by saying, "The question is on the adoption of the motion to [or "that"] ... [repeating or clearly identifying the motion]. Those in favor of the motion, say aye. [Pausing for response,] Those opposed, say no." (Alternative forms are: "All those in favor..."; "All in favor..."; or the wording formerly prescribed by Congress, "As many as are in favor...") In the case of a resolution, the question may be put as follows: "The question is on the adoption of the following resolution: [reading it]. Those in favor of adopting the resolution that was just read, say aye...Those opposed, say no." If the question has been read very recently and there appears no desire to have it read again, the chair may use this form: "The question is on the adoption of the resolution last read. "Those in favor of adopting the resolution, say aye...Those opposed, say no."
In Congress, "the vast majority of actions decided by a voice vote" are ones for which "a strong or even overwhelming majority favors one side," or even unanimous consent. This is because after the chair announces what he believes to be the result of a voice vote, any member can request a division of the assembly (a rising vote, where each sides rise in turn to be counted), and one-fifth of members can demand a recorded vote on any question.
According to a study, more than 95 percent of the resolutions passed by state legislatures are passed by a unanimous voice vote, many without discussion; this is because resolutions are often on routine, noncontroversial matters, such as commemorating important events or recognizing groups.
A voice vote is held to decide if a bill can progress through to the next stage.
The Speaker of the House of Commons will then propose the question by saying, for example (second reading): "The Question is, that the Bill be now read a second time". The Speaker then invites supporters of the bill to say "aye" and then opponents say "no": "As many as are of that opinion say 'aye' [supporters say 'aye'], on the contrary 'no' [opponents say 'no']". In what is known as collecting the voices the Speaker makes a judgement as to the loudest cry. A clear majority either way will prompt the response "I think the Ayes/Noes have it" (this can be forced to a division by continued cries either way). If the result is at all in doubt a division will be called and the speaker will say "Division. Clear the Lobby".
In the House of Lords, the Lord Speaker will propose the question by saying, for example (second reading): "The Question is, that the Bill be now read a second time". The Lord Speaker then does similarly to the Commons Speaker, by saying, "As many as are of that opinion say 'Content' [supporters say 'Content'] and of the contrary 'Not Content' [opponents say 'Not Content]. The Lord Speaker then decides. In the result of a division, the Lord Speaker will say "Division. Clear the Bar".
- Gregory Koger, Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate (2010), University of Chicago Press, p. 18.
- Hartley R. Nathan, Nathan's Company Meetings Including Rules of Order (6th ed. 2005), CCH Canadian.
- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (10th edition), p. 44.
- Mark A. Smith, American Business and Political Power: Public Opinion, Elections, and Democracy (2000), University of Chicago Press, pp. 65-68.
- Thomas H. Little and David B. Ogle, The Legislative Branch of State Government: People, Process, and Politics (2006), ABC CLIO, pp. 43-44.
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