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Voting Procedure in the House

       The Select Committee to Investigate the Voting Irregularities of August 2, 2007 (commonly referred to as the “Stolen Vote” committee) has released its final report dated September 25, 2008.    The report describes in some detail the process of voting in the House, which I summarize below:

  1. Votes in the House are conducted by the “tally clerks” at the direction of the Chair. Under House Rule XX, clause 2(a), the preferred method for conducting a record vote is by electronic device. In most cases, the rule requires that the minimum time for such a vote be 15 minutes.
  2. The process of voting is controlled by the Chair (the Member who has been designated by the Speaker to preside over the House proceedings at that particular time and who is referred to as “Mr. or Madam Speaker” during that time). The Chair acts in a “non-partisan capacity” and receives guidance and advice from the Parliamentarian as to how to comport with the rules, precedents and best practices of the House. The Parliamentarian, as an agent of the Chair, may also provide advice to the tally clerks on the proper conduct of the vote.
  3. The Electronic Voting System (EVS) is operated by the “seated tally clerk,” who sits at the primary EVS terminal on the Speaker’s Dais. The seated tally clerk is assisted by a standing tally clerk, while a third tally clerk monitors the vote from a terminal in the Office of Legislative Operations.
  4. The seated tally clerk will initiate the EVS when the Chair states “The yeas and nays are ordered. Members will record their vote by electronic device.”
  5. The EVS includes a clock that tracks the minimum amount of time for the vote, 46 voting stations located on the House floor, and display boards. Two display boards, located above the east and west doors of the House chamber, display the time remaining in the vote and the running tally. A third display board, located behind the Chair, displays the vote of each Member.
  6. Members may cast or change their votes by using their personal voting card at one of the voting stations and pushing one of three buttons- a green button for “yea,” a red button for “nay,” or an amber button for “present.”
  7. Members may also cast their votes manually in the area in front of the rostrum known as the “well.” Well votes are received by the standing tally clerk, who verifies the information on the “well card” and hands it to the seated tally clerk for entry into the EVS.
  8. A Member may change his or her vote any number of times during a record vote. However, after the first 10 minutes of a 15-minute vote, a Member can change his or her vote only by manual voting in the well, unless the Member voted “present,” in which case the vote can still be changed electronically as long as the voting stations remain open.
  9. The seated tally clerk keeps a handwritten list of Members who change their votes after the first 10 minutes.
  10. Members are responsible during electronic votes for verifying that their votes are recorded accurately.
  11. The process of closing the vote begins when the Chair asks whether any Members wish to vote or change their vote. The Chair will ask this question sometime after the first 10 minutes of a 15-minute vote, and this signals the seated tally clerk to turn off the 46 voting stations (thus requiring that all remaining votes be cast or changed at the well). However, if the seated tally clerk perceives that there are a number of Members still seeking to vote, the tally clerk may leave the voting stations open for some period.
  12. When the Chair asks whether any Members wish to vote or change their vote, the seated tally clerk gives the handwritten list of Members who changed their vote to the reading clerk, who proceeds to announce that information to the House. Any changes to votes thereafter are announced immediately by the reading clerk.
  13. Once the minimum time for a vote is expired, the Chair determines when to close the vote. This decision is to be made on the “totality of the circumstances,” based on the Chair’s balancing of the obligation to conduct the vote efficiently (which means closing the vote at the earliest opportunity after the minimum time has expired) and the obligation to protect a Member’s right to vote (which counsels keeping the vote open when the Chair sees that there are Members who have yet to vote).
  14. Generally, the practice of the Chair has been to delay closing the vote until there are no more Members in the chamber who are seeking to vote. It is commonplace, at the end of a vote, for latecomers to straggle into the chamber while the Chair is attempting to close the vote. It can take the Chair several minutes, and several attempted announcements, to close the vote, long after the minimum time for voting has expired.
  15. With one exception, the Chair has complete discretion as to when to close the vote. That exception is the rule, adopted for the first time in the current Congress, that prohibits a vote from being held open for the sole purpose of reversing the outcome of a vote.
  16. When the Chair is ready to terminate the vote, the gavel is brought down. Operating pursuant to the Chair’s direction, the seated tally clerk determines when all votes have been entered into the EVS and reflected on the display boards. At that time, the seated tally clerk indicates to the standing tally clerk that the tally displayed is reliable and selects the option on the EVS to “terminate the vote.”
  17. At the same time the standing tally clerk prepares the “tally slip” (a small slip of white paper containing the vote tally) and hands it to the Parliamentarian, who in turn hands it to the Chair.
  18. At this point the Chair will usually take the tally slip and read the vote tally aloud. As the Chair does so, the seated tally clerk will typically select the option on the EVS called “setting the vote to final” (doing so causes the word “FINAL” to appear on the display boards). However, this in itself does not end the vote, and if additional Members enter the chamber, the Chair may still allow them to vote, requiring the EVS to be reopened and another tally slip to be prepared.
  19. It is only when the Chair makes an “unequivocal announcement of result” that the vote is final under House rules. Thus, when the Chair states “the amendment is adopted” or “the bill is passed,” the vote is concluded and cannot be reopened. Even this has some wiggle room, as House Parliamentarian John Sullivan explained: “I can recall on occasion when a Chair uttered what in a transcript would look like an unequivocal statement of result, but it is just because the last syllable was coming out of his mouth he wanted to pull up because a Member was running down the aisle. . . . We rationalize that the Chair hadn’t put the period on the end of the sentence in that circumstance.”
  20. As the “unequivocal announcement of result” is announced, the seated tally clerk selects the “releasing the displays” option on the EVS. The EVS then asks for “verification of the release.” While the earlier steps in releasing the EVS are reversible, the verification of the release clears the display board and shuts down the vote as a technical matter.
  21. After the vote is closed, the tally clerks on the rostrum proof the well cards with the tally clerk located in the Office of Legislative Operations. After this is done, the vote totals are released to the Clerk’s public website.
  22. Data for each vote taken by electronic device is collected in several files: transaction logs, checkpoint file, vote journal log, and hardware and software error logs. These files are only available internally and not to the public. The transaction logs record all voting transactions by each Member during a particular vote, including every vote cast, the time each vote is cast, any changes, and the manner in which the vote is cast (ie, from a voting station or a well card).

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