State Legislators Vote Often or Not at All; Tally Comes Out the Same Either Way

EFF photos
Then casts seatmate's vote
Seattle Rep. Sharon Tamiko Santos casts her vote
Hypocrisy, a requisite trait of politicking, has run amok this session in Olympia. Legislators who often demand accountability by others don't seem to demand it from themselves. There was that 65-second public hearing for a bill with no text, for example, and that public hearing on another bill that hadn't been introduced. Now they are defending their right to not vote on bills at all, and having others vote for them.

The state Senate has a roll-call voice vote but the House has electronic buttons to do the voting, allowing for the subterfuge. When a legislator if off doing something he or she thinks is more important that carrying out the ultimate required act of the job they were elected to do - vote - someone else reaches over and presses the button for them.

During one recent House session, says writer Scott St. Clair, "I lost count of the number of times I saw two particular legislators doing it."

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and House Majority Whip Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, repeatedly cast their own votes for a measure and then reached over to cast a vote for an absent seatmate, says St. Clair, of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

It's a little-known but long-practiced charade, allowing lawmakers to fluff up their record by claiming they voted when they didn't. The reach-over vote memorably cropped up in the Eighties after a daily Olympian reporter caught a House member casting 17 votes on one bill, 16 of them for others. The reporter also watched colleagues vote for another member who was off collecting his laundry. "Talk about taking the voters to the cleaners," opined the Olympian.

State House absentee voting has flared anew due in part to a rift between two candidates for a seat in the U.S. House - the Third Congressional District, where state Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, was battling state Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Camas, to replace retiring congress member Brian Baird. Wallace, shortly before she withdrew, took a parting shot at Herrara for "shirking her duties" by repeatedly allowing others to vote in her absence, according to the Vancouver Columbian. Herrera denied the shirking, and defended the vanishing.

The double, triple, maybe quadruple voting appears to violate the House's own procedural rules, which note that "only [the votes of] members at their desks within the bar of the house shall be counted." House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, see no problem in violating this ethic. Says the Olympian: "Yes, it's wrong. Yes, it's dishonest. And, yes, the fraudulent practice will continue. It will continue because Speaker Chopp and Minority Leader DeBolt let it happen."

So legislators who don't vote are deceptively recorded as having done so, and can continue to lie about their records. It's something to keep in mind the next time a tut-tutting state legislator asks you why you don't exercise your right to vote.

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