May 11, 2010
In our continuing effort to help members of The American Legion family in their efforts to follow and understand congressional actions, we now present a brief discussion concerning the different types of voting that takes place in Congress, how they can be found on THOMAS, and how that information can be helpful.
Once a piece of legislation is voted out from the one - or possibly more - committees to which it was assigned, it is sent to the floor of its respective chamber. If the subject of the bill is particularly important, the bill will likely receive floor consideration fairly quickly - say, a week to 10 days. Or, if the bill is not considered time sensitive, it may sit at the desk of the clerk of the chamber indefinitely. This action essentially kills the bill, unless some action is taken by its supporters to force action. If a bill is not passed by the end of the second session of a particular Congress, it dies.
Let us assume that your legislation has been fast-tracked for prompt action. After a period of several days - or possibly even weeks - of debate and consideration, any amendments are made to the bill, it is now time for the members of the chamber to make their feeling known on your measure.
Very often, when a vote is called for passage of a particular bill, a voice vote is the usual procedure. Equally often, a bill is often declared "passed" even when the voices of a measure's supporters are not obviously louder. Also, a voice vote does not allow a member's constituents to know how he or she voted on a particular bill. If a clear-cut winner of a voice vote is not recognized, then a request for a recorded vote is made.
In both the House and Senate, a clerk may call the roll of each member and ask their vote on the bill in question, either "yea," "nay," or "present." This action occurs most often in the Senate, with only 100 members to call. In the House, this would be a very time-consuming activity.
Each voting member in the House has an ID card which doubles as their voting card (the delegates of territories and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico cannot vote). A number of voting machines are located at the back of the House chamber. Each member inserts his card, then presses one of three buttons of the machine: the green button for "yea," the red one for "nay," and the yellow button for "present." Special panels on the wall above the chair of the Speaker of the House display all the names of the House members, and an appropriately colored light appears by that member's name. There is also a second display which shows the running total of the yeas and nays of the vote.
Each vote could last up to 15 minutes, or sometimes slightly longer in order to give all members enough time to come to the floor of the chamber and vote on the legislation. If several roll call votes are held in a tandem, then the vote may only be for five minutes.
Finally, in both the House and Senate, a bill may be passed by unanimous consent. This is a situation in which no one present objects to a proposal. Unanimous consent can greatly expedite business by eliminating the need for formal votes on routine procedural questions in which the existence of a consensus is likely. Usually, the presiding officer will state, "If there is no objection, the motion will be adopted. [pause] Since there is no objection, the motion is adopted."
Unanimous consent is sometimes used simply as a time-saving device, especially at the end of a session. Sometimes members do not want a formal recorded vote on the issue, or know that they would lose such a vote and not feel a need to take the time. Conversely, raising an objection does not necessarily imply that the objector disagrees with the proposal itself; he may simply believe it would be better to take a formal vote.
Roll call votes, voice votes and unanimous consent can be found in the description of action taken on a bill. After searching for a particular bill, go to the "All Congressional Actions" link. Search for specific action on the measure; all three types of votes will be specifically stated in the description.
Roll call votes, with the listing of how each member voted, can be found in one of two ways. In the description of action on a bill, there will be hyperlink to the roll call votes. Click on the link and you will be taken to a search results page showing the breakdown of the yeas and nays. Also, if you know the number of the roll call vote, you can go to the front page of THOMAS. In the center column is the heading "More Legislative Information." One of the hyperlinks will say simply, "Roll Call Votes." Clicking on that link will take you to a separate results page.
On the "Roll Call Votes" page, you will see a listing of each Congress back to 1989. Click on the "1st Session" or "2nd Session" link" to find the roll call for which you are searching. Then, search for the specific roll call, and click on the number of that vote. You will then have a full listing of how each member voted on that particular bill.