Don't Clinch Fracking in NC with Fractured Voting Rule: Allow Carney's Real Vote!

  • by: Susan V
  • recipient: NC House of Representatives

Fracking was forced into NC through a crack in a fractured House vote.

An advocate of alternatives to chemical hazards, I oppose fracking and its diversion from safer energy sources. So I was relieved that Gov Perdue vetoed the fracking bill (S820) and that the House lacked support to override it.

But by the time Speaker Tillis opened the vote near midnight July 2, at least one Rep had been "bought off," and then Rep. Carney pushed the wrong button. Within two minutes, S820 was set in stone, clinched by another move meant to drown out Carney‘s protests.

Unable to accept this as fair, I reviewed voting rules in 43 states and found NC alone gives members only 10 seconds to vote and almost no chance (if any) to correct a mistaken deciding vote.

What happened in NC’s House last week is flagrantly unfair and warrants a correction on S820 and a change in NC’s voting rules. Tell NC House to Allow Carney's Real Vote.

We, the undersigned, believe the circumstances surrounding the passage of S820 warrant correction. Denying Carney the opportunity to correct her vote within seconds of pushing the wrong button should be considered Unconstitutional.

Aware that political maneuvering is standard procedure, we believe, nevertheless, that this case moves beyond the norm to unusually unfair practices, which at least border on Unconstitutional because they interfere with voting.

Notwithstanding the serious issues surrounding the practice of fracking and the way in which this particular bill was pushed through the process, NC’s House voting rules, by comparison to others states’ rules, are uniquely unjust in a way that works to thwart intentions and wishes of our lawmakers and those they represent.

To be more specific, not one state's Rules out of 43 I reviewed limit the time members have to vote and confirm a vote to 10 seconds, as NC does (NC rules say 15 seconds, but in practice now, it's 10 seconds). Most House Rules give members “sufficient time” to vote, check their vote and change it before the Speaker locks the machine, tallies and announces the results. 

Other states that do forbid a vote change, do so only after sufficient time is given to vote and change a vote, and then only after the voting is closed and  results announced. Some allow changes even after that if the vote was a mistaken one. Some allow verification of a close vote. The more “civilized” Rules, as I call them, instruct the Speaker to ask, after “sufficient time is given to vote” if all members have voted and had a chance to change their votes, before locking the machine.

From what I was able to gather after listening to the official audio of the Fracking Veto override vote in the NC House last week, there was a voice heard from the floor immediately after the vote opened, and in less than a minute Carney had clearly called out that she’d pushed the wrong button. I was told by a  representative who sits near Carney that Carney had attempted to push the other button before the voting closed, but either her machine malfunctioned or a change of vote is not allowed within a few seconds, without special permission. The way the rules are written, in an instance like this one, where the vote makes all the difference, changing the vote is specifically forbidden. However, there is a loophole that allows temporary suspension of a rule, if a member can ask that rule be voted on and be recognized ahead of another member working to prevent it. It's up to the Speaker to decide who is recognized. It's a political game, in other words.

Fifteen seconds (now 10 seconds) is clearly not sufficient time to vote, confrim and correct a mistaken vote, and if Carney did indeed try to do so before the results where announced - even with the time constraints she had - then malfunctioning of the voting machinery should be investigated.

The House Rules I label “civilized” are ones I believe all states should emulate as far as voting procedure goes. Kansas, Oregon, and Mississippi are some I found that provide examples of civilized rules.

The quote below is taken directly from Kansas’ House Rules on voting:
After all members who desire to vote or to change their votes have had
reasonable opportunity to do so, the presiding officer shall announce the vote and, when the vote has been announced, shall direct the chief clerk to record the vote.

The following is Idaho’s Rule 36 c:
(c) If an electrical voting machine is used, the presiding officer shall use a warning device after stating the question and then state: "The Clerk will unlock the machine and members will record their vote." After a reasonable pause, the presiding officer will ask: "Has every member voted?" (Reasonable Pause) "Does any member wish to change his vote?" (Reasonable Pause) "The Clerk will lock the machine and record the vote."

And, from Mississippi’s Rule 97 :
After the voting machine has been locked, but prior to the display of the tabulated vote on the electric voting board of the result of a roll call, any member may request to (1) change his vote, or (2) vote.

Oregon Rules state:
3.26 Electronic Roll Call; Time, Changes. When a vote is taken using the electronic voting system, the members shall be allowed at least thirty seconds to vote, at the end of which time, the clerk will display the vote. After the individual votes have been displayed, any member desiring to change his or her vote may so announce. The presiding officer shall direct the Chief Clerk to make the proper entry into the electronic voting system.

Texas allows members to change a vote before the results are announced and allows for Verification on close votes as well, discouraging the use of the voting machine for this process.
Verification of a Yea and Nay Vote — When the result of
a yea and nay vote is close, the speaker may on the request of any member
order a verification vote, or the speaker may order a verification on his or her
own initiative.

As a final example (though most are more equitable than NC‘s), New Jersey allows for a correction of a mistaken vote, even after the results are announced, not restricting what effect it may have on the results:
12:4. No Vote Changes.
No member may change a vote after the results are announced by the Speaker, except to correct a vote recorded in error.

Bob Phillips, with NC’s Common Cause, agrees with my conclusion that the House “‘…could consider lengthening the amount of time for lawmakers to register their yes or no vote for each roll-call vote to cut down on the number of voting mistakes.’”

He noted this back in March when an AP report made it look as though NC was ahead of other states in allowing legislators to change a recorded vote after the final results were tallied - a report that failed to note how little time members had to vote in the first place, and how difficult, if not impossible in some cases, it was to change a vote before the tally, when it mattered most.

As if prophetic of what happened last week, Phillips added last March that “there needs to be some leeway for a legislator who due to exhaustion or confusion pressed the wrong button and wants it changed immediately…Failing to pay attention "is not the worst thing in the world,' Phillips said.”

There should be no debate that what took place in the NC House last week was unfair, unusual and politically motivated, and it involved a very heated and controversial issue that especially warrants a fair vote.

Instead of putting NC, already a state with one of the worst air quality grades in the country, at risk for more pollution by fracking, legislators should focus on removing the roadblocks, non-existent in some states, that make community solar development feasible (see Jan DeBlieu’s “Community Wind’s Promise Thwarted by State Regulations” NC Coastal Federation, State of the Coast Report 2011) and focus on developing our states promising alternative energy sources.

Why should any political party be allowed to push through and clinch a bill to which the majority of House members and their constituents are opposed by using unfair voting practices?

Rebecca Leber for ThinkProgress writes:
"Although the final vote was a mistaken one, the pro-oil industry lawmakers would rather rely on a faulty process to permit this controversial practice, which pollutes the air, water, and climate when unregulated.”

Denise Weeks, Principal Clerk at NC Legislature, says members can punch a different button before the machine is locked (10 seconds), however members cannot see how their vote is registered on the board before the vote is locked - they only see the button they pushed lit up. And they are not asked if anyone needs to change or confirm a vote before the machine is locked. This to me seems to be the most important issue - that all members have time to check and confirm a vote before they are blocked from changing it - that all votes reflect the intention of the voting member, given a reasonable time limit. I don't see what harm there would be in having a verification vote when situations such as these arise.

For now we request two things: A correction of the vote on the override of “fracking bill” S820 and changing NC’s House Rules on voting to give members sufficient time to vote and confirm their votes before results are announced.

Thank you for your time.

For a brief explanation of how fracking can destroy aquifers:

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