Members of the Georgia House of Representatives have been violating their own rules for years – and House Speaker David Ralston says he approves of it. The rule requires that House members actually cast their own votes. But as 11Alive News reported Monday, House members routinely allow other state representatives to cast their votes for them.
There are 52 pages of rules that the House approved for this legislative session. They cover everything from ethics to dress code to the rules of debate. But Speaker Ralston says there’s good reason to let slide the rule about voting.
Ralston says the rule against blue jeans on the floor of the House of Representatives is worthy of enforcement. But the voting rule, he says, is different.
"There are going to be frequent times when they’re off the floor during a vote," Ralston said during an interview Tuesday.
We found that House members routinely cast votes when the members in the desks next to them were temporarily absent – reaching over to the adjacent desk and pushing the “yea” or “nay” button on the desk of the absent lawmaker. Ralston says it’s because the absent lawmaker may be meeting constituents or attending committee meetings. Ralston says the absent lawmaker will typically signal the seat mate to vote yes or no.
"Legitimate, justifiable reasons," Ralston said.
Q: Are the constituents being cheated if their representative is not casting their vote?
Ralston: I don’t think they are at all because I think then the Representative is voting – has expressed his desire or instructions to vote.
Q: So why not just let them be absent and not vote?
Ralston: Well, because I don’t think people would accept that. They’re here, you know. And so it’s a practice that I think we have treated reasonably.
FULL INTERVIEW | House Speaker on phantom voters
The House rules say "no member or person shall vote for another member on any question or proposition" – subject to fine or censure. Ralston doesn’t dispute that he has let the rule slide.
"I have brought up that they need to be in their seat. And they need to vote," said House Ethics Committee chairman Joe Wilkinson (R-Sandy Springs).
He says he gets Speaker Ralston’s explanation. He also thinks the House needs to respect its rules.
"I like the idea of having remote voting stations just like in the US House of Representatives to address this. Or, change the rule," Wilkinson said.