Rep. Nikki Haley & legislative voice voting reform

Just when state politics gets stale and boring, leave it to our friends at the Policy Council to shake things up a bit.

Their most recent effort was a solid piece of quantitative analysis of legislative voting practices in the South Carolina General Assembly. According to their research, when a General Bill or Joint Resolution came up before either chamber, only eight percent of the time would the House have a roll-call vote, and only one percent of the time would the Senate choose that option.

Overall, their research indicated 95 percent of votes are cast by voice, meaning the public would never know who voted in support or opposition to a particular bill. This practice is contrasted against the following examples from other Southern states:

  • Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi mandate roll call voting on final passage of all bills,
  • Tennessee requires roll call voting on every bill including bills making appropriations of public dollars, and
  • North Carolina mandates roll call votes on second and third reading of revenue bills.
We understand that in some cases, a bill going before a chamber is essentially uncontested. In such cases, a voice vote is the most expedient means of passage and a roll call vote can slow things down, especially in the last couple of weeks of session. While the Policy Council report does not attempt to make such distinctions, which might have been helpful, we know there are plenty of occasions which a voice vote is not used simply to fast-track legislation with overwhelming support. These are the times which the Policy Council is concerned about, and we believe those concerns are legitimate.

On important issues, we believe the people have a right to know where their legislators stand on important issues, as well as what they are, or aren’t, doing about those issues. It’s a point of view the Policy Council shares, as well as Representative Nikki Haley - so we decided to get her take on this breaking issue.

First question – what have you been doing on this issue, and how much support have these efforts had?

Last session, I introduced House Bill 5019, the 2008 Spending Accountability Act, because I believe legislation that in a time when a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas are roughly the same price we owe it to the public to show them how their hard-earned dollars are being spent.


Second question – we know sometimes a voice vote is the most expedient means to pass a bill, and it’s not intended to cover up anyone’s position on an issue. In your estimation, what percentage of voice votes are simply to speed up a bill, as opposed to being done to provide cover to legislators on politically-volatile legislation?

Whether it’s ten percent or eighty percent, I firmly believe it is sound policy to go on the record. In the business world no one hands over a checkbook and says spend this money wisely. All expenses are recorded and individuals are held accountable for how they spend. The same should be true in state government.


Third question – how do you feel this recent publicity has affected support for these efforts?

I think the recent report by the SC Policy Council validates the need for this type of legislation. While individuals may differ on their conclusions, I think we can all agree that there is clearly a need for more accountability in government, and that’s the chief aim of my legislation.


For the last question, while we can pretty much guess this, but we still have to ask – do you plan to re-introduce legislation on this issue?

Over the past few months, I have been working closely with Senator McConnell on this legislation. We plan to pre-file a comprehensive bill in both the House and the Senate later this year.

3 Response to "Rep. Nikki Haley & legislative voice voting reform"

  1. Anonymous 8/8/08 22:58
    Go Nikki!
  2. Skipper Perry 11/8/08 17:09
    Mr.Capps,
    To have a roll call vote on any House Bill where it is not required all we have to do is request one and get nine other members to agree. It is very easy and simple. Surely politics is not involved in all this recent interest. Regards, Skipper Perry HD 81 Aiken
  3. Lily 16/8/08 12:14
    Rep. Perry has hit on what's wrong with the current system -- right now it is up to the legislature to decide whether or not to call roll. That is dangerous. Are we seriously saying we should trust the politicians to decide when they want to publicly record their votes? That's exactly when the decisions are political..like the House's voice vote to give itself an increase to its pension plan. Rep. Perry knows they didn't call roll on that one. Seems pretty clear that voters don't want to leave it to ten House members to decide when it is important to take a recorded vote. Thanks to Rep. Haley for her courage on this...stay with it, Ms. Haley! The public is paying attention to this one.

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