The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

The Bottom Line on Roll Call Voting

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For those of us who expect lawmakers in South Carolina to be accountable to those who elect them, Tuesday, May 11 was quite an eye-opener.

Senators called it “Roll Call Day,” —a day of wasted time where they mocked the electorate by deliberately making unnecessary motions and then demanding recorded votes. Hours were spent deriding their constituents’ concerns about the Legislature’s abysmal track record on roll call voting. They’ve even gone so far as to call government transparency a “fad.”

What was intended as a political stunt to thwart passage of a law requiring roll call voting, was instead a confirmation of the need for it: This issue isn’t about whether the law is constitutional, or about byzantine Senate rules. Lawmakers in this state simply don’t want us to know how they vote.

 Here are the facts:

  • In 2008, lawmakers recorded their votes just 5 percent of the time.
  • In 2009, the Legislature passed procedural rules they promised would “fix the problem.” The result: they continued to vote off the record 75 percent of the time.
  • South Carolina is among only five states that do not have either a constitutional or procedural requirement that votes be recorded before a bill can become a law.

What’s really going on?

It appears many Senators want to continue deciding if and when you are allowed to see how they vote on legislation that raises fines and fees, increases spending, creates new state agencies, expands the power of government, spends tax dollars on special interest deals, and any number of other measures.

Legislation this year requiring roll call voting by law passed the House unanimously, only to be buried in the Senate. When Sen. Tom Davis demanded that the bill be brought up for a vote, opponents said it was unconstitutional. Their solution: yet another change to Senate rules.

Rules changes didn’t make the legislature accountable in 2009; why should we believe things will be any different now? Rules only mean that legislators can continue to choose which votes they record. The only way to ensure that the public knows where lawmakers stand on the  issues—through their voting record—is if we take the ability to manipulate the process out of their hands.


Written by Robert Appel

May 27, 2010 at 10:37 am

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