December 1, 2004

Senator Seward replies on empty-seat voting

Senator Seward's office was certainly speedy in getting back to my letter about empty-seat voting, though I can't say his response gives me much sense that he's interested in changing the process at all.

The senator writes:

Most of the votes for which legislators are recorded in the positive without their specific aye votes (so called "empty seat voting") are for what we term noncontroversial measures. The roll is called on each and every bill, and every member is considered a positive vote unless he or she stands up to request to be recorded as a no vote. In most cases, legislators are present when this occurs. It requires vigilance on the part of a conscientious legislator. The bills done under what we call a "fast roll call" are typically local bills that affect a town, a sewer district, or authorize a county to take some action. Sometimes policy measures are done this way when the change to a law is minor or there is no controversy. Legislators must be present to vote no, however.

By contrast, the Brennan Center reports that:

In the Senate, the Annual Journal of the Senate includes a record of which procedure was used for each bill. Out of the 308 major bills passed from 1997 through 2001, the Senate used a slow rather than fast roll call on only two occasions. On one additional occasion a “party vote” was taken in which votes were automatically tallied based on party affiliation.

Only two bills in the Senate were noncontroversial over a four-year period? That's impressive in itself, suggesting that very little difficult ever happens in Albany. I'll have to track down the Journal of the Senate of the State of New York for more recent years to see how they're doing lately. I haven't heard of any great change in how they do business, but perhaps...

I've scanned the Senator's full response, and you can read it in clearer (75KB PDF) or text-selectable (110KB PDF) versions.

Posted by simon at December 1, 2004 2:32 PM in ,
Note on photos