Absent Alabama legislators sometimes still cast votes

Updated: Feb. 16, 2018 at 5:42 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When you head to the ballot booth and pick the person who will be representing you in the state legislature, the general expectation is that they'll be at the Statehouse when it's time to vote on a particular bill. And you would certainly expect that their recorded vote was actually made by them, not someone else.

In Alabama, and other states, that's not necessarily the case. A legislator representing a north Alabama district could simply walk over and cast a vote for another legislator from, say, the Wiregrass. Sometimes a lawmaker votes for an entire row of fellow legislators.

It's all perfectly legal and it happens almost daily.

Statehouse rules allow for lawmakers to vote from other legislators' machines, even if no one is there. That is unless Rule 32 is invoked, which requires legislators to vote only from their own machine.

Thursday was an extreme example, however. The discrepancy between the number of members in the chamber and the votes actually cast were, at times, staggering.

The official record shows Rule 32 was in place during a vote on the Church Security Bill and 59 of 105 House members voted on the bill at 8:20 p.m. That means 59 legislators were present.

Yet two hours later at 10:20 p.m., after media saw multiple legislators leave the chamber, drawing the number down to between 40-45, a bill passed 90-0!. And it wasn't the only one. Other votes include counts of 87-0, 92-0,  83-0, 88-0, 76-3, 78-0.

How is that possible? There may have been half that number of legislators in the chamber as votes cast.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon calls the impact minimal.

"They build up a rapport with their colleagues," McCutcheon explained. "They have a sense of confidence in each other, and they will tell them normally, members will tell them, their colleagues sitting next to them in the chamber and say when this bill comes up this is the way I want to vote."

Allowing lawmakers to vote for others gives members flexibility. Unless Rule 32 is in effect, a lawmaker can take a walk, go to the restroom, meet with constituents, or potentially go home, yet know someone is covering their votes.

House Clerk, Jeff Woodard said the practice has been going on since he started covering the legislature back in 1978. Woodard said it usually is only used for non-controversial legislation.

"If a bill is controversial and a vote is going to be close that Rule 32 is going to be invoked and unanimous consent will be revoked, and people will only be able to vote their own machine," Woodard said.

While it may not generally change the outcome, with Thursday's vote there were half as many legislators as there were legislative votes.

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