A quorum call is a parliamentary procedure designed to ensure that members of a legislative body are present before a vote is passed. A quorum is defined as the minimum number of individuals who must be present for a transaction or law to be considered legal. In many legislatures, the quorum needs to be a majority: if less than 51% of the legislature is present, the legislature cannot conduct business. In a large legislature or group, it can be difficult to determine whether the quorum is present. Any legislator may request a quorum call to find out how many people are actually in attendance.
Many citizens are surprised to learn that their elected officials do not spend a great deal of time on the floor of the legislature, and that the quorum is often not actually present during the conduct of day to day business. Records on the daily attendance, along with how legislators voted, are available for most governments. If you are curious about how hard your elected official works, seek out these records to see how often attendance and votes have been recorded. The absentee rates for legislative bodies are often alarmingly high, which can be an issue during the passage of major votes.
In addition to establishing the status of the quorum, a quorum call can also be used as a stall tactic. A legislator may call a quorum call, for example, if he or she knows that an absent colleague intends to submit an amendment to the bill on the floor. The quorum call gives the other legislator time to get to the floor and speak. The interlude provided by the quorum call may also be used to conduct private business, negotiate with other members of the legislature on the floor, or to work out a problem. When a major bill is on the line, the quorum call is used to call the majority to the floor in order to ensure that the bill passes.
By custom, most legislatures assume that a quorum is present unless it is questioned by a legislator. If a quorum call determines that a quorum is not present, the situation needs to be remedied. If legislators can be found working in their offices around the building, the quorum can be re-established and the legislature can continue with its business. If a sufficient number of officials cannot be rounded up, the legislature may be forced to adjourn for the day.