This is an astounding video showing Texas legislators voting for absent members.
Such votes are against the rules of the Texas legislature but are apparently common practice.
- Does willfully violating the rules mean that the legislators are violating their oaths of office?
- Are these votes courtesy votes done with the consent of the absentee member or are a mad mercenary attempt to get as many votes as possible in the rule-breaking voter’s favor?
[Update: here is the transcript]
I’ve been part of a lively debate about some of the issues raised by this video in this forum. I have a number of comments there, so be sure to check it out.
Some salient points that I bring up:
Is this activity in response to a real need?
It is incredible. I suspect that it is responding to a real need though. I wonder how other state legislatures cope with the problem of legislators who are not in attendance but who want to vote on a particular issue?
I suggest that:
- legislators can log in and log out securely so that their voting buttons will not work if they are not present
- they use a proxy system where a legislator can assign their proxy to someone that they choose (rather than whichever slob is nearby) whose vote counts for them unless they also vote in which case their own vote overrides. The proxy should be delegatable so that there can be a proxy chain which accounts for several people being out at the same time. Kinks would need to be worked out – how to abstain, whether to delegate votes on a per issue basis, etc… This would be very transparent since you can still see on the board who voted in which way.
I’ve heard that the TX leg is pretty partisan so seeing votes being voted for other members across party lines suggests to me that this is not just a case of members courteously voting for other members *as they know/suspect that the absent member would have wanted to vote or asked them to vote* but rather people are voting their own preferences on as many desks as possible.
Is it oath breaking? Is it wrong and corrupt?
I don’t make any claims as to it’s legality. The piece mentions that it is against the House’s own rules and that members who break the rules are subject to enforcement. I have no idea what that consists of. I suspect that it can be as toothy or as toothless as the House rules allow. I’m ignorant on that.
As for it being wrong and corrupt: I agree if it is a mercenary hunt for buttons. If it is a courtesy, I think that, while it may be against the rules and wrong in that sense (as well as violating whatever oaths there are regarding those rules), it is NOT wrong and corrupt in a moral sense.
>it’s breaking their SWORN OATH
This might be in which case it seriously disturbs me. Hopefully someone will do their homework and make the case that this explicitly breaks their sworn oath. I can imagine oaths that this would not break. Eg: “I swear to abide by all the rules of the House or face the censure outlined by the rules.” Even if the censure is severe, one could choose to break the rules on the grounds that the censure would be applied evenly and hurt ‘the other guys’ more than you.
Explicitly allowing a proxy voting system may solve the underlying need.
I suggest that they institutionalize and explicitly allow (delegatable) proxy voting. From my point of view delegating a proxy ought to be perceived as a fundamental right in a democracy. The principal is:
- Ideally one votes for oneself in an informed manner
- Failing that one directly selects someone to represent you (selects not votes for. I see no reason why other people’s views should affect who I chose to have represent my views, save that there are a limited number of people who can reasonably be elected into an assembly)
- the chain of selection can go arbitrarily many layers
- anyone is allowed to vote directly which will count for them and for their proxies. That they voted directly overrides their delegated vote.
- you can easily change who your vote is delegated to
- it is desirable to directly know and be able to effectively communicate with the person who you have selected to represent yourself. In this way they can effectively represent you.
You can read more about delegatable proxy.