Fast pace in House leads to lawmaker mistakes, confusion on votes

The rapid-fire succession of floor votes in the House this year has triggered lawmaker confusion and mistakes.

With dozens of votes stacked in a lengthy series on recent bills, a number of House lawmakers have cast the wrong votes.

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Over a period of 10 days in June, at least a half-dozen House members have stood on the floor to state publicly that they voted incorrectly.

It is important for members to clarify the record for a variety of reasons, most notably that one of their votes could be used against them in a future campaign. 

While unintended votes happen in each Congress, some contend that they are on the rise in 2011. Part of that trend is attributable to changes implemented by Republicans. 

The new House GOP majority has adopted a much different schedule from what Democrats embraced during the last Congress. By and large, the House recesses once every three weeks, allowing members to spend more time with their families and constituents. That change has attracted praise from members, but it also puts pressure on leaders to cram as many votes as they can into the schedule.

That has led to a slew of “personal explanations” about mistaken votes submitted in the Congressional Record.

On June 21, House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said, “Mr. Speaker, on roll call No. 439, the Kind Amendment to H.R. 2112, I voted ‘aye’ when I intended to vote ‘nay.’ ”

Two days later, longtime Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said he “mistakenly voted ‘nay,’ ” when he “intended to vote ‘yea’ ” on a GOP energy bill.

Duncan added, “I have always supported efforts to expand American oil production.”

Freshman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) conceded that he “inadvertently” voted against an amendment offered by anti-earmark crusader Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). 

Republicans, who need to keep the trains running on time, have been sticklers for ensuring that votes are called shortly after the clock runs out. 

Their preference has been to stack a number of votes in a series, allotting two minutes to each vote (following the initial 15 minutes for the first vote in the series).

With as many as 30 amendments in a series, legislators have found themselves confused as they insert their member voting card into the electronic reader.

GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) blamed a staff member for her mistaken vote on a procedural matter related to the defense appropriations bill. 

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“Mr. Speaker, when roll call vote 480 was called, I registered my vote as ‘aye’ and then proceeded to an intelligence briefing. When I returned to the floor, it was my intention to vote ‘no’ on the next amendment, and I registered my vote as such. Unfortunately, due to a staffing error, it was still the same roll call vote 480, and my ‘aye’ was mistakenly changed to ‘no,’ ” Bachmann stated on June 23.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told The Hill that members get recommendations from their staff that don’t necessarily match up with the information available on various items when they get to the floor to talk with colleagues. 

“You get the recommendations from your staff — sometimes on the floor you find out information that’s contrary to the advice that you’ve received in your office, so there’s not a whole lot of time to respond to that even once you’ve got on the floor,” McCaul said. 

He added, “I’m sure some members are messing up.” 

Members are allowed to change their votes, but many of them realize their mistakes after the vote has been closed.

Explaining a miscast vote earlier this year, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) explained he “did not see the error until it was too late.”