For a bill to pass out of a House or Senate committee, it must get enough votes. Last week’s quiz focused on how many and what kind of votes were enough. Eleven “Yes” votes are needed in a House committee and five “Yes” votes are needed in a Senate committee for a bill to pass to the next level toward becoming a law. How are these votes taken? Are they recorded? And how can voters know how their representatives vote on a bill in committee?
In summary, the vast majority of bills are voted on with a “voice” vote only with no record made of how a committee member votes. On a “voice” vote the chairman of the committee will ask, “All those in favor say ‘Aye'” and “Those opposed say, “Nay”. Members then state their votes aloud. Some legislators remain silent, leave the room, or were absent that day if they do not want to vote on the bill. Upon hearing the audible vote, it is then left to the discretion of the chairman to judge whether he heard the required number ( 11 or 5 respectively) “Yes” votes to pass the bill. The only time a record of voting is made is when a member of the committee specifically asks to “roll call” the vote. This is done to challenge the “decision” of the chairman. Upon a member asking to roll call the vote, each member in the committee goes on the record with a “yes,” “no”, “present,” or “non-voting” which becomes public record. Roll calling a vote removes chairman discretion and assures a bill is passed with the legally required number of “Yes” votes.
Since the vast majority of votes are never roll called or otherwise recorded, it may be impossible to learn how your legislator voted in committee. There is a video recording of most House committee meetings. However no videos are made of Senate committees. Using video review or your personal attendance at a meeting may be the only way to know how or even if your legislator voted unless there was a roll call.