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February 23, 2012 8:30 am

EDITORIAL: Legislature’s archaic voting system needs to go digital

Written by Ilene Olson

The Wyoming Legislature could take an example from Park County School District No. 1.

On Friday, the deadline for bills to be introduced into the Wyoming House of Representatives or the Wyoming Senate, representatives and senators pushed hard to assure that each bill got its chance for introduction.

In the House, representatives voted on whether to introduce about two dozen bills.

The sponsor of each bill had two minutes to explain the bill and its purpose, and one or two opposing representatives had one minute to explain their views. That was followed by another 30-second opportunity to speak in favor of the bill, and then the bill came up for an introduction vote.

But there, the hurry ended.

Instead of representatives voting electronically, as they could do if they had the technology, the House clerk called each individual name of the 60 representatives, who then cast a vocal vote of “aye” or “no”.

Ironically, it took representatives almost as long to vote on whether to introduce each bill as the time given to briefly explain its pros and cons. It took between 1.3 minutes and 1.5 minutes to conduct each roll call vote.

The process also is timed in the Senate, with the sponsor given three minutes to explain a bill, with no rebuttal allowed, followed by a roll call vote of the 30 senators.

Roll call votes, while recorded as quickly as possible by Legislative Service Office staff and technology, are not recorded instantly, leaving the interested public waiting for minutes or hours for answers to questions about bills they care about.

Contrast that to last week’s meeting of the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees. After reviewing the issue at hand on their laptop computers — while the audience saw the same information on two screens in the board room — each of the seven trustees voted electronically on the issue. There was no roll call and no delay. The results were displayed instantly on the screens, and the discussion moved on to the next topic.

There was no time for trustees to wonder how the trustees next to them might be voting.

By contrast, roll call votes in the Wyoming Legislature — House and Senate — allow plenty of time for legislators whose names come late in the alphabet to consider the votes cast earlier by other representatives and senators.

They have ample opportunity to calculate whether a bill is likely to pass or fail before they cast their votes. That could mean that, if there appears to be a wide margin, their votes are calculated to put them in a position supporters — and voters — might approve of, rather than voting their conscience. Listening to previous votes also has the potential to dissuade them from casting the vote they originally had in mind.

In addition, following each roll call vote, House and Senate clerks provide an opportunity for representatives or senators to change their votes — which some do on occasion, particularly if it won’t change the outcome of the vote. Their reasons for doing so most likely are political. Reversing a vote could them in a better light in the public, and/or it could align their voting record with that of another representative or senator.

When that happens, it is the second, changed vote — the one that reversed a lawmaker’s position because it might prove to be politically advantageous — that is recorded and visible to the public.

There is no reason for that to continue. It is time that the Wyoming Legislature joins the 21st century by using technology already available to record lawmakers’ votes quickly and to hold them accountable for each vote they cast.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link February 25, 2012 10:55 am posted by Pete Laybourn

    Thank you for this sensible editorial. I have often wondered if some of the big egos in the legislature don't just like to have their name called out all day long...
    Pete Laybourn

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