by Karl Kurtz
A post from a year ago in The Thicket, "Making Legislators' Votes Available Online," explored why only nine of 126 legislative chambers in the nation (including Congress, state legislatures and the city councils of the 25 largest cities) commonly make information about roll call voting available by bill but not by legislator. In other words, why the public can easily find out how legislators voted on any single bill, but it's a lot of work to find out how a single legislator voted on multiple bills.
The post was inspired by a Kennedy School researcher who was studying the subject and inquiring about state legislative practice. Now that researcher, J.H. Snider, is president of a non-profit, iSolon.org, which deals with information technology and democratic reform. He has recently published an academic article based on his research with the imaginative title, "Would You Ask Turkeys to Mandate Thanksgiving? The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency."
The article is an interesting, well-researched piece of advocacy on behalf of the value to the public of publishing roll call voting information by legislator. Snider points out that modern information technology means that there is very little cost to providing this information in multiple formats. The comments by readers to my original post on this subject helped Snider write his article. (It's the first time, to our knowledge, that an academic journal has cited The Thicket.)
In turn, Snider's and other readers' comments on the post in The Thicket enriched that piece and made it one of the best of 2008. One of the most interesting aspects of the readers' comments is how none of the chambers that do provide voting records by legislator reported any negative feedback from incumbent legislators in their states about providing this information to the public (and to their opponents in the next election). The decision to publish votes by legislators in several states was made with little or no opposition or debate.
In an e-mail message to me about his article, Jim Snider said:
Whether legislators or staff agree with his argument or not, I recommend the article to anyone interested in the subject.