Unique Voting Process In Senate Debate Raises Questions

Jun 10, 2013

The Ohio Senate used a less common way of voting on some amendments when it passed the budget last week.

Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports some are questioning the process.

Usually when state lawmakers vote, they hold a roll call so that every member states whether they support or oppose a bill or an amendment.  But in nine out of two dozen amendments that were considered by the Ohio Senate during the budget debate, President Keith Faber used a different method:

Faber – Those in favor say aye.

Group – Aye

Faber – Those opposed say nay

Group- Nay

Faber – There’s been a request for a division.  Those in favor will please rise.  I’ll ask the clerk to make the count.

That type of vote is rarely used in the Ohio legislature these days.  When asked after session why he used that process instead of the typical roll call vote, Faber responds this way:

Faber – WE had a whole long list of amendments and we wanted to make sure we went through the process.

Ingles – The OGT/Ohio Channel, when they film this, they don’t show who’s standing and who’s not standing.  You can’t see the breakout on the vote. A lot of people question the accountability.

Faber – On motions to table, it is a procedural matter.  It is accountable by the yays and nays of the total vote. And so that’s their accountability.  Anyone who is in the chamber has the opportunity to see that and certainly you can ask people how they voted.

But at the end of the day, when these type of votes are cast, there is no written record of how each lawmaker voted on the measure.  John Green, a professor with the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron says there might be reasons, other than expediency, why lawmakers might opt for these types of votes rather than a roll call record.

Green – Sometimes members of the legislature and congress, city council and so forth would really rather not have people know how they voted because a lot of issues are controversial and sometimes legislators find themselves in a bit of a bind with some people in their district wanting one thing and others in their districts wanting another thing so there can be some advantages to individual members to not have their vote recorded precisely.  But then, of course, there are people outside of the legislature or those who might want to lobby a particular member or run against a particular member might be frustrated because they wouldn’t know how a member voted on a particular piece of legislation.

Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio says it’s not only lobbyists and potential opponents who might be frustrated with the voice and standing vote process.

Turcer – The voters have no idea who voted for these amendments and this strictly lets our legislators off the hook when it comes time to be responsible when it comes time for us to go to the polls.

Some of the amendments under consideration that were voted on this way include a bill that would have required businesses receiving tax incentives to account for how those dollars are being used and an amendment that would have added money for Ohio’s food banks.  Turcer says voters have the right to know where their Senators stand on amendments like these.

Turcer – It’s these kinds of silly maneuvers that make voters distrustful of the process.

The vote on the budget itself was a roll call vote where each lawmaker had to vote in favor or against it.  And it passed along party lines with Republicans voting yes, Democrats voting no.  The Ohio House will vote on the budget bill in the coming days, likely sending it to a conference committee that will be charged with hammering out, behind closed doors, the difference between the house and senate versions of the budget.