Let the record speak for itself

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Assembly Democrats are scheduled to caucus today to consider ways to stop "ghost voting" in the wake of revelations that some members openly violated the rules by voting for each other in recent floor sessions.

Of course, the most straightforward approach would be to remind the caucus of Rule 104 - "a member may not operate the voting switch of any other member" - and count on our elected representatives to honor it.

One safeguard that is said to be under consideration would be to require Assembly members to remove the keys from their electronic voting machines when they leave the floor. Such a policy makes absolute sense and is long overdue.

But there is another Assembly custom that may also be contributing to the elected officials' lack of reverence toward the roll call. Assembly members are now allowed to change their votes after a bill is passed or defeated, as long as it does not change the outcome. This ability to rewrite history is outrageous in several ways.

It was evident in the rationalizations of Assemblyman Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, about party members voting for each other. As he explained in an interview last week, members always had the opportunity to change their votes if they did not like the way it was cast for them.

That may be true most of the time, but not when a single vote is decisive. If the vote de León had cast for Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, had been the 41st "yes" vote on a housing measure she opposed - then she would have been stuck with it.

But beyond the temptation it creates for ghost voting, allowing legislators to switch votes after the fact is just plain wrong. It allows them to play both sides of the fence - in many cases, helping a special interest defeat a bill by "laying off" (or, as we prefer to call it, "taking a walk") until a measure is defeated, and then "adding on" their yes vote.

Such games are far less prevalent in the Senate, where roll calls are conducted by voice vote, and cannot be changed after the fact.

This whitewashing of voting records is a disservice to Californians who deserve an honest account of how their representatives voted when they go to leginfo.ca.gov. At very least, those records should include an asterisk when a vote has been changed. Better yet, vote-switching should be outlawed.


This article appeared on page B - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle