The Latin phrase “ex officio,” which is usually translated as meaning “because of someone's office,” refers to a position which someone holds because or her or his office. A classic example of a situation in which this term might be used is to describe ex officio members of subcommittees. It is common for the chairperson of a committee to be automatically placed on the membership of all subcommittees, making the chairperson an ex officio member.
In order to be designated as an ex officio member of a group, someone is not required to do anything. These members are not elected or appointed, they are simply included in the group automatically because of the offices they hold. The concept of having members of a group who are included by nature of their office dates back to Roman times, as does the term itself.
The position which gives someone ex officio rights may be one to which this person is elected or appointed. For instance, in some areas of the world, the sheriff acts as the ex officio coroner, and sheriffs may be appointed or elected, depending on the law. Generally people must demonstrate competency for the position which they hold in order to obtain it, and thus these members do have a baseline level of experience, ability, and skill which they can apply to the positions which they hold by virtue of their offices.
There are no special rights or privileges for ex officio members as a general rule, and their activities are not restricted. However, it is possible for the activities in which these members engage in to be restricted by the bylaws. For example, the bylaws may state that any such members do not have voting rights, which means that they can participate in meetings but they may not vote on subjects brought to a vote.
When structuring bylaws, people can define the situations in which people are given ex officio status and they can also clearly establish the boundaries of people who obtain positions because of the offices they hold. The goal is to avoid a situation in which a person abuses powers granted because of an office, and to set out clear rules of order for the organization so that there is no confusion in the event of controversy in the future. Bylaws can also be amended as circumstances change to meet the needs of a group which may be evolving over time.