by Karl Kurtz
"Do you know if your state legislature allows proxy voting on floor votes? Or committees? If it IS allowed, do you think it is a matter of tradition or do formal rules specifically allow for it?" That was the question yesterday on a political scientist's listserv that I subscribe to. Thanks to my colleague, Brenda Erickson, we have the answers to these questions.
But first it's necessary to define terms. An article that Brenda wrote 10 years ago uses the more general term "remote voting" for legislators casting votes when they are not present. There are six categories of remote voting: pairs, proxy, telephone, teleconference, videoconference and computer link. Proxy voting is a specific form of remote voting in which one member authorizes another to vote on his or her behalf.
Of these different forms of remote voting, the only one that is in extensive use in floor sessions in state legislatures is paired voting. The rules for paired voting differ somewhat from state to state, but most commonly it occurs when a member who is absent from a legislative session arranges in writing in advance with another member to cast votes on opposite sides of an issue. The effect is to cancel each other's vote out and to allow the absent member to be recorded on the issue.
At the time of Brenda's article (1999) 21 chambers provided for paired voting. By contrast, 47 chambers had an outright prohibition on remote voting either in session or in committee.
Only two chambers, the Florida House and the Pennsylvania Senate, allow proxy voting. In the case of the Florida House the member must actually be present in the chamber and give assent for another member to cast his or her vote. In the Pennsylvania Senate the privilege is limited to situations in which the absent legislator is working on the business of the Senate.
For the most part, remote voting is provided for in legislative rules. For a downloadable file of extensive (although not 50-state) examples of current (2008) legislative rules on the subject, click here: Download Voting-presence required 2008
Legislatures are somewhat more flexible on voting in committee. A few legislative chambers in each category allow some form of remote voting, as detailed in Brenda's article.
Photo credit: Iowa Sen. Steve Sodders