Categorized | Commentary/Editorial

Ron Devito: How to Vet Voting Records

Guest Submission by Ron Devito

"I have great respect for the wisdom of the people….the American voter doing their own homework, knowing who these candidates are, what they represent, what their experience provides them – they will be making up their own mind."

-Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin
December 1, 2011, Hannity

An incumbent seeking re-election or a candidate having served in a prior office has a voting record. The purpose of examining voter records is to assess:

  • Congruency of stated position in campaign materials and actual voting record.
  • Integrity or lack thereof.
  • Consistency of position on issues vs. "flip-flopping."
  • If a change in position on an issue is heart-felt or motivated by political expediency.
  • Possible evidence of crony capitalism or other forms of corruption when assessed along with financial data. A key indicator is the legislation benefits a business or industry and there are major campaign or PAC contributions from interests associated with the business or industry. You likely need to cross-reference voting records and financial data to see this.

Note that legislators have a penchant for attaching amendments to bills that have nothing to do with the bill itself. A legislator might vote against a bill that seemingly aligns with your values because of these amendments. So, you may need to look up public statements about the decision to see if this factor was operative. Similarly, many bills are deceptively named. Just because the name sounds like something you agree with does not mean that it is. If something about a candidate’s vote on a bill causes alarm bells to ring, investigate further.

Remember that no one in the House or Senate can truthfully claim to have cut a budget. Gov. Palin noted this in her December 1, 2011 TV interview with Sean Hannity and Eric Felten’s The Ruling Class: Inside the Imperial Congress detailed how "services baseline" budgeting works back in 1993. Nothing has changed since then.

At the federal level, both the House and Senate provide complete official roll call voting records, so if your candidate has served in the House or Senate, you will find the voting record here. These records are organized by the legislation or resolution voted on. You cannot go to one of these sites and search a particular person’s complete record, so using these sites fast becomes a real chore. Some Representatives and Senators do list their complete voting records, but it is not common practice.

We should push our elected representatives to post their complete voting records, not just at the federal level but at the state and municipal levels as well. We should also be able to see complete voting records, not just sponsored or introduced pieces of legislation.

US House of Representatives

US House of Representatives Roll Call Votes

US Senate

US Senate Roll Call Votes

Project VoteSmart

Project VoteSmart is a non-partisan organization consisting of an equal number of liberals and conservatives. A search on a person’s name will pull up the voting record, and in some cases financial disclosures. VoteSmart has a Political Courage Test which virtually no major candidate of either party has taken. Thus, nearly every candidate will have "Lacks Courage" under his or her name. Is this an indictment of all candidates of both parties, or is it more an indictment of VoteSmart? We’ll leave that question for our readers to decide.

For the 2012 POTUS election, VoteSmart offers a tool known as VoteEasy which asks you to answer 20 questions about various issues and rank their level of importance to you. Based on your answers, the algorithm will pick one or more candidates who supposedly most closely align with your position on the issues. How reliable is it? All I will say is run it and judge for yourself. I certainly would not stake my voting position on VoteEasy, but it can be valuable as a starting point.

The VoteSmart site does a very good job with highlighting voting records of those candidates who have House or Senate experience. It also goes to the state and municipal levels, though not as comprehensively.

Project VoteSmart


Cross-Referencing VoteSmart, Senate and House Sites

The easiest way to vet a candidate with House or Senate experience running for re-election or for POTUS is to first use Project VoteSmart. This is because VoteSmart will pull up the voting record associated with a candidate. If a candidate voted a certain way on a piece of legislation that you determine warrants further investigation, you can go to the appropriate site and search on the legislation to read its text. By doing this, you can see if the candidate in fact "flip-flopped" or found an amendment to a bill or act objectionable.

State and Municipal Offices

State and municipal records are much harder to track down than House and Senate records. Each state and city site has its own quirks and there will be a learning curve in accessing them. As the offices get smaller in scale, the records get more scarce. Some states and cities may not have this information online, making vetting a real chore.

Still, the procedure is similar to the federal offices. In New York State, all legislation sponsored by a state Senator or a State Assembly member is available online. The same is true for the New York City Council. But, finding how these elected officials voted on legislation they did not sponsor is very difficult. Sponsored legislation should give you enough information to make a reasonable assessment.

Here are some examples using New York State and New York City:

New York State Senate: Diane Savino

New York State Assembly: Matthew Titone

New York City Council: use the advanced search. You can find sponsored legislation, by picking the council member’s name off the drop-down menu and it’s organized by first name first.

Executives: Governors and Mayors

Executives sign and veto legislation, thus they have a "voting record." Visit the state gubernatorial website and the city’s mayoral site where the official served. Executives do more than sign and veto legislation, however. The governor is the president of a state and the mayor is the president of a city. Executives fill appointed positions, administer budgets, and manage crises. A governor has ultimate command over the state’s National Guard units and the state police. A mayor has ultimate command over a city’s police and fire departments. Executives sign ceremonial proclamations. Don’t pooh pooh these. Just ask any sitting or prior executive how riled up a voting bloc gets if a pertinent proclamation is forgotten or omitted one year. These proclamations reflect somewhat on issues that may be important to the executive. Everything matters when vetting, even those items that on the surface appear petty.

When you vet someone who has executive experience, you need to look beyond "voting record" – legislation signed and vetoed – to consider all facets of the executive’s job and how well he or she performed in these areas. Gov. Palin’s accomplishments throughout her life, for instance have been thoroughly compiled and continue to be updated. The point in using Gov. Palin’s accomplishments for this exercise is not to compare others to her, but to see the various aspects of what an executive does.

Using New York State as the example again, here is the list of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signed legislation, and Gov. Cuomo’s initiatives, including budgets. Here is Project VoteSmart’s Key Issues Summary on Gov. Cuomo. There are a fair number of bills vetoed, and you can see he used the line item veto on a budget vote. I learned something new writing this. I had no idea my home state has the line item veto.

New York City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg does not list legislation signed or vetoed, but he does list his accomplishments, issues that matter to him, and his executive orders.

While state and city sites are excellent resources for sitting executives, finding the accomplishments of a prior governor or mayor will require some real digging, because much of that information is archived.

Google (or Bing, or whatever) is Your Friend

For instance, just on a Google search, I saw that my councilwoman, Deborah ("Debi") Rose received the endorsements of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW and is favorably predisposed to the Working Families Party. She is a hard leftist and her sponsored legislation (mainly resolutions) confirms that. All this came up without my even having to open the links, but I could see the links themselves were authoritative. Using a search engine is a good supplementary tool for vetting voting records.

The Next Installment

The next installment will show you how to vet financial data and why you should cross-reference it with voting records.

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