Harwell Eyes House Rule Changes to End ‘Ghost Voting’

House Speaker Beth Harwell has ordered a review of House rules after a Nashville television station reported on “ghost voting,” wherein several members were shown routinely pushing the desktop vote buttons for others just before the legislature adjourned May 1, according to the Commercial Appeal.
One veteran Memphis member, Rep. Lois DeBerry, a Democrat, turned back the $174 daily expense payment for a day in which she was absent but listed as voting “present” on the House floor.
DeBerry said colleagues erroneously assumed she was running late because her office failed to file an absence letter that would have shown her as “excused” on the chamber’s roll-call board.
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, acknowledged punching the electronic desktop vote buttons of seat mates when they are out for restroom breaks or meetings with constituents outside the chamber.
Officials agree that while voting for colleagues momentarily away from desks on the House and Senate floors is a longstanding tradition, a Nashville television station’s recent report may lead to a crackdown on abuses. The WTVF report included two East Tennessee Republicans trading out parts of long days on the floor and voting for each other for extended periods.
…Chief Clerk Joe McCord said Harwell “has directed me to come up with some proposals to take to the Rules Committee to see if they want to address it and adopt them.”
…In Nashville, House Rule 29 declares, in part, that “All members casting votes by the electronic roll-call machine shall be at their proper desks at the time for voting with the exception of the Speaker and sponsor moving passage of the bill under consideration.” (The speaker presides at the podium and the bill sponsor is usually there explaining the bill.)
But by long-running practice, the rule is in force only when the speaker declares it’s in effect — “going under the rule.” That usually applies on a contentious bill where the outcome is uncertain. Most routine bills that reach the floor pass by heavy majorities, often unanimously, and the outcome is rarely in doubt.
McCord and lawmakers distinguish between casting votes for colleagues away from their desks temporarily and voting for members who are not present at all, which is not supposed to occur.

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