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How often do lawmakers change their vote?

Posted July 17, 2012
Updated July 18, 2012

— In the waning hours of this summer's legislative session, House lawmakers voted on Senate Bill 847, which tweaked a series of local tax laws and altered how senior resident Superior Court judges are appointed. The bill had been returned as part of a conference report, meaning the House and Senate had negotiated a compromise and this was the final time members would have a say on the bill. 

The original vote: 93-19.

Shortly after the vote was taken, two members stood. Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, asked that he be recorded as voting "no" after initially voting "aye." Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland, asked that he be recorded as voting "yes" after initially voting "no."

The final vote: 93-19.

House lawmakers asked, and were granted, permission to change their vote 583 times over the 2011-12 legislative session. The Senate clerk's office does not record statistics on how many times lawmakers in that chamber switch their votes, but it does happen.

Earlier this year, the Associated Press detailed how votes are switched after the fact in a number of state legislatures. And it noted one case in which North Carolina Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, changed his vote two weeks after the fact.  

But by far the most notable mistaken vote in recent North Carolina history involved one that could not be changed.

Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, made a mistake that allowed a bill paving the way for natural gas drilling – the so-called "fracking bill" – to pass. She was unable to change her vote because it would have changed the outcome of the legislation. 

House Rule 24 allows members to seek "leave of the House" to change a vote, but "such leave 16 shall not be granted if it affects the result."

Had Carney been able to change her vote, it would have been the 11th time she had done so in two years. While that puts her near the top in vote changes, it is Floyd who leads the list of vote changes with 24 over a two-year period.

"When you're in session, you're multitasking," Floyd said this week. Attempting to talk to colleagues about the measure currently under consideration, gathering information on the next bill on the agenda and asking constituents what they think about a particular item can distract members, he said.

It's worth noting that the House took 1,801 recorded votes over two years. While that means at least one member changed his or her mind – or asked to be recorded after failing to vote at all – on roughly 30 percent of the bills, of the 205,914 individual votes cast by individual lawmakers the error rate was under one-third of 1 percent. 

Still, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said he was looking at changing the way votes in the House are conducted if Republicans return to the majority after the fall elections. Currently, he said, House members get about 10 seconds to record their vote on a bill.

"I'm seriously considering extending the limit to may 15 seconds or 20 seconds, but when it's done, it's done," Tillis said during a recent taping of WRAL's "On the Record."

"I think sometimes people go, 'I really didn't want to vote for it, but I wanted it to pass, now I'm going to vote against it.'" Tillis said. "There's all those kinds of dynamics going on, which I think are a distraction and time consuming.

"So I'm very seriously considering when we come back next year just extending the time and making sure that we say, 'Please, look at the button you pressed at least once over that 10-, 15- or 20-second period – that it's the button you expected to press. There's a green one and a red one."

Sometimes it's not the choice between red and green that's the problem, Floyd said. The House chamber is a cavernous room and members are not always in their seats when a vote is called. Sometimes, members are just outside the room speaking with lobbyists or staff. 

The time allotted, he said, does not always allow a member to reach their seat, which is why many of the vote changes are requests to be recorded one way or the other, not to change from one position to the other. 

Regarding Tillis' suggestion that members get more time but just one chance to record a vote, Floyd said that would be harsh medicine. More mistakes happen during busy times, such as the end of session when legislation is moving faster than usual and bills are being amended and merged with other pieces of legislation.

"We're human," Floyd said.

Rep. Kelly Hastings, R-Gaston, changed his votes 19 times, the most of any Republican. For many of those, Hastings said, he was fighting the flu or a bad back. And like Floyd, Hastings said he was often distracted by last-minute efforts to learn more about legislation.

And there's a matter of calls from his 12-year-old daughter.

"She starts missing her dad now and then," Hastings said, noting that legislative sessions take lawmakers away from home for roughly four days a week. "Whether we're in the middle of session or not, I try to take that call." 

Vote changes by House members

14 Comments

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  • BubbaDuke Jul 18, 3:28 p.m.

    The question should be, how many polls does it take before a politician can decide how to vote. I agree with puzzled, you should not have to be rich to get elected. Public service should be a sacrifice - Ben Franklin said that 200 years ago. It should be something you do because you care, but also something you quit because you can't live off the pay.

    In all the talk over how Romney is raising more money than Obama, don't be fooled. Consider the source of where you're getting your information. There are sixteen times more PACs and lobbying groups that contribute to the Democrats than there are contributing to Republicans. Liberals outnumber conservatives in the 1% of our wealthiest citizens. This whole charade of choosing leaders for our nation is based on who can raise the most money. Whoever controls our money controls our lives. I always vote to protect my pocketbook and my freedom.

  • lmbl Jul 18, 3:24 p.m.

    I accidently voted for fracking-you betcha.

  • artist Jul 18, 1:21 p.m.

    That is what they are supposed to do, man!

    Change you vote to the best idea - whatever party came up with the idea!

    The people sent you there to do just that... not stick to a hard party-line!

    THINK - use your head and vote for the best ideas!! regardless of party affiliation.

  • puzzled Jul 18, 11:17 a.m.

    These people are at work and should take their job serious. That is THE PROBLEM. They are not taking this as a serious job and probably have no idea what they are voting on until we, the public starts to raise ----, then they wake up and say, oh, no, I did not mean to vote for that. Now my yes folks are mad at me. What a bunch of dumb voter we are. We keep doing the same thing. We need a system in place so a person does not have to be rich to be a politian and maybe, just maybe we could get some honest folks in these positions who care about others and will do their job. You have to be rich to get into one of these positions and they have no idea about the real world or what is going on. I have talked to Doug Berger and let me tell you, I was impressed. Did not vote for him before but will next time. He listened and knew what he was talking about in the conversation. To top that I met him in a McDonalds, recognized him struck up a conversation. He is a real person.

  • gingerlynn Jul 18, 10:46 a.m.

    they just want to change their vote so it looks better on the record when you are campaigning

  • The Fox Jul 18, 10:44 a.m.

    "Here we go trying to make a case for this clown, who decided after having cast her vote, that she made a "deciding" mistake."

    The lady doth protest too much. She probably was for fracking to begin with.

  • ConcernedNCC Jul 18, 10:27 a.m.

    Here's a good way to stop vote-changing...Pay attention to what you're voting on before you vote. Maybe if we paid them for it...Oh wait! We do pay them.

  • albegadeep Jul 18, 9:27 a.m.

    Imagine the chaos if we could do that as individual voters. Drop this rule - once your vote is counted, that's it.

    And while I'm glad Hastings stays in touch with his family, talking on the phone with his daughter during session (for non-emergency calls) is no excuse. If I took a personal, non-emergency call during a meeting, I'd get a talking to from my boss!

  • luvbailey Jul 18, 9:12 a.m.

    If ever there was a rule that needed changing, this is it. It should be "once you've voted, you've voted." No changing to make your record look better.

  • jcd241959 Jul 18, 8:37 a.m.

    Ral is so far up Obamas rear it is unreal.

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