Roll-Call (and why you should be there)

“House please come to order. We will now proceed with roll call.” Hearing this at the opening session of your first ever Model United Nations (MUN) conference would probably sound daunting, and you might feel like being on the pitch in the football stadium as the announcer lists the starting line-up. The atmosphere becomes electric and the anticipation builds as you prepare to compete in the arena of debate, negotiations and diplomacy. As each committee member is called upon in alphabetical order, you would see placards raised and hear declarations of “Present” or “Present and voting”. Once in a while, it could be interspersed with that one delegate who stands and pronounces to the committee, “Good morning chairs and fellow committee members. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is present and voting.”  What is roll call, what happens there, and why should you care? This article will address your doubts surrounding roll call, and why you should show up on time and be there when called upon.

Roll call serves to take note of the voting stances of each delegate at the committee session, and could be a barometer of the room in voting directions on the resolutions. During roll call, each committee member has to pronounce herself as “present” or “present and voting” when called upon, with different impacts on voting rights on resolutions. Since non-member states and observers cannot vote on resolutions, they can only declare themselves as “Present”. On the other hand, member states can declare themselves either “present” or “present and voting” when called upon. Typically, member states that declare themselves “Present” reserve the right to abstain during substantive voting on draft resolutions, whereas those who state themselves as “present and voting” are expressing that they do not intend to abstain on substantive matters, i.e. in votes on draft resolutions. While the implications of whether delegates declare themselves “present” or “present and voting” can be harder to track in bigger committees, in Security Council simulations in particular, the pronouncements of each and every member state should be taken more seriously. A room where most delegates declared themselves “present and voting” could imply that they are certain on their voting stances, and that they would be doubling down on their own resolutions for the session.  

Roll call also serves to monitor delegate attendance, which would be a consideration in whether delegates receive their participation certificates and qualify for awards. Typically, the participation certificate is required for delegates as documentary proof that they had attended the conference, to support their application for their personal extracurricular activities record, future programs in school, and even scholarships and subsidies from school or external funding groups. Most conferences have an attendance policy where delegates have to attend most if not every committee session to be eligible to receive a certificate of participation, and to be considered for awards. Some conferences may give discretion and award delegates with participation certificates at the end of the conference in situations where delegates are unable to attend specific sessions due to illness. In such cases, a delegate who fell ill midway through the conference could be required to submit a doctor’s medical certificate to account for his/her absence. To ensure that you would receive your certificate of participation at the end of the conference, please avoid any misunderstanding and miscommunication with your chairs and be punctual for roll call. If you fall ill, please inform your chair if possible, and seek medical help and documentation from the doctor.

To conclude please avoid coming late for committee sessions and missing roll call. This could happen even to the best of us, where we could have overslept, or have not recovered fully from the social events the night before. Delegates who miss roll call would be taken as absent, and would not be recognised to speak at the committee session until they submit a note in writing informing the dais that they are present. This means that if you missed roll call, even if you spent the night before preparing your best speeches and documents to be presented, you would not be called to speak because you were not listed as being present in the room in the first place! In addition, other delegates who are more meticulous and track the attendance of each and every delegate in the room might not be aware of your presence and could forget to send notes to you to communicate on working together. In the final committee sessions, missing roll call would also cause you to miss a chance to read the room on their stances in resolution voting. This would hamper your chances of finding room for negotiation, as you are not sure if your partners would have that room for negotiations themselves, having locked down their stances on whether they could abstain on resolutions! Lastly, some chairs who are more particular about punctuality might frown upon delegates who arrive at committee sessions late and take such repeated infractions into account when deciding awards. So show up at roll call, take notes, and raise your placard when called upon.

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