ATLANTA — A Georgia lawmaker who missed a quarter of his votes in the 2019 legislative session said a family emergency on the final day of the legislative session was the culprit for most of them. State Rep. Vernon Jones (D-Lithonia) missed most, but not all of those votes, on the day the session adjourned.

On April 2, the legislature's final day, members of the House of Representatives held 76 votes from the start of the day to the end. Rep. Jones was present and voted 17 times during the final day. But House records show the former DeKalb CEO missed 59 votes that day.  

For the entire legislative session, he missed 25 percent of his votes, easily making him the biggest unexcused absentee in the chamber, according to an analysis by All On Georgia. 

Jones tells 11Alive News he had a reason:  A family emergency forced him away from the Capitol for much of the final legislative day.  

“For me, family comes first. I couldn’t leave the capitol fast enough. Wouldn’t you do the same?” Jones said in a statement.

Rep. Vernon Jones

Former state Rep. Doug Teper says most lawmakers would get authorization to leave the House floor – resulting in an excused absence.  

"If you had to be somewhere you could be excused from voting," said Teper, now a Georgia State University instructor on Georgia government. "You would go up to the clerk’s desk and say that I need to be in a meeting, and I’d like to be excused from voting."  

Teper, who once unsuccessfully ran for DeKalb CEO against Jones, said excused absences for personal issues are commonplace.

Rep. Jones apparently didn’t try to excuse his absence April 2. In a phone interview, he told 11Alive, “When you have an emergency, you take care of it." His absences on April 2 ran his missed-votes total to 98 for the year. The second most were by Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague (D-Red Oak), at 56 missed votes in 2019.

Georgia House members frequently face issues casting votes. If they are in an anteroom or a bathroom or a hallway talking to a constituent, they typically have only a few seconds to rush to their desks and vote before the Speaker instructs the clerk to lock the voting machines and tabulate the vote. Lawmakers frequently direct their seatmates to push vote-casting buttons on their desks when they can't get back in the chamber quickly enough.

By contrast, the Georgia Senate allows senators a leisurely 60 seconds for every roll-call vote cast.

Teper said there are no rules requiring lawmakers to vote a particular percentage of the time, nor specific guidelines for excused absences.  He said it's up to voters to judge a representative's voting performance in the legislature.