Opinion Columns & Blogs

State senators hide behind rule that allows unrecorded votes on controversial issues

Finally, a commonsense bipartisan issue we can all agree on. All votes in the state capitol should be recorded so that we the people always know exactly how each one of our state legislators vote in Atlanta.

Believe it or not, that is not the case in the Georgia state Senate.

State Senate rules used for decades allow unrecorded votes on very significant amendments to legislation offered on the Senate floor long after public input and any scrutiny in the committee process has been completed.

This lack of transparency in government affairs can be easily changed. Georgians need to know that the state senators vote on Senate rules as their first order of business every other year — and 2017 is one of those years. We provide this information just in case a few state senators forget to mention it to their constituents.

High up on the front wall of the Senate chamber is a large brightly lit machine that displays each senator’s vote and electronically records it in the permanent Senate record. It’s called the “Yeas and Nays” voting method.

In the full Senate chamber, if any senator wants to change a bill that has already been through the committee process, a “floor amendment” can be offered and senators can vote on whether or not to approve the amendment — with an unrecorded raise-your-hand vote. And they can decide if that vote is an unrecorded vote with another unrecorded raise-your-hand vote. Oddly enough, this is inaccurately referred to as the “voice vote,” or “rise stand and be counted” voting method. It takes five senators to very quickly demand a machine-recorded vote on floor amendments.

Confusing, isn’t it? Here is an example: In 2015, the Georgia Senate killed an amendment aimed at ending the current practice of issuing drivers licenses to illegal aliens by holding an unrecorded, raise-your-hand-vote on whether or not to have an unrecorded raise-your-hand-vote. Unrecorded won. Illegal aliens won.

We the people lost.

There was also an unrecorded vote involved in the final passage of the 2015 transportation tax increase. This writer watched both events. Readers should contact their state senators and demand that when the Republican-controlled state Senate comes to order on Monday morning, Jan. 9 the existing Senate rule allowing any unrecorded votes is changed. And that it be done with a machine-recorded vote.

D.A. King is president of the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society.