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‘It’s not really a scandal until it is’: the practice of ‘ghost voting’ is alive and well at the Texas Capitol

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AUSTIN, Texas (UKTN) – It sounds like science fiction, but “shadow voting” is a real, albeit little-known, legal practice in the state capital of Texas.

And this happens thousands of times during the legislative session.

During most votes in the House, Members use buttons to vote from their desks – not just for themselves.

They can “shadow vote” one, two, three or more times on behalf of their colleagues.

Ken Herman, an Austin American-Statesman reporter, has watched lawmakers push each other for decades.

“It’s not much of a scandal until this is,” Herman said. “[Lawmakers] will go around and hit the button of all the others that are not there. In most cases, they did so with the authority of that person.

Dwight Roblyer, professor of political science at Texas A&M, says shadow voting is common.

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“There is competition on the buttons. The question is how fast can people twist and reach and turn. “

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The most notorious case of shadow voting occurred in 1991, when a Houston-area lawmaker died of a drug overdose hours before he arrived in the capital.

“On the day he died, people were voting for him,” Herman said.

If you want to see how it works, you’ll have to travel to Austin, because while the House does live stream hours of debates and routine readings, when it comes to voting, the camera remains focused on the podium at the end. ‘before.

In 2007, the UKTN subsidiary in Austin raised the curtain on the battle for buttons.

People were outraged by this practice, which was against the rules of the House at the time.

“It wasn’t a very rosy one for the legislature, so they came in and changed the rules,” Roblyer said. “Members could vote for other members as long as they had permission.”

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Herman says most bills that make it to debate have enough support to pass by a wide margin, so shadow voting rarely affects the outcome. “In most cases, it’s a courtesy.”

Practice played a role in the 2019 legislature.

After a police bill survived a critical vote, the House held a verification vote, to ensure that all lawmakers on the board were indeed in the room. “In this case, there were four or five – and I tracked them down – where they weren’t even in the building,” Herman said. “So in this case, when they did the check and checked it out, it turned out to be different than what the board showed because the shadow voting continued.”

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Former state official Jason Villalba said long days make shadow voting necessary.

“You can’t be on the floor for 20 hours straight,” he said.

Villalba said lawmakers trust each other to help if they go away for meetings or breaks.

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“If these were votes that you consider non-controversial,” Villalba said, “you would say to your office mate or trusted member, ‘hey, three votes are coming, I’d like you to vote for me no , ‘and that’s how it would be. “

He also points out that members can table a motion for strict enforcement, which requires lawmakers to be at their desks to participate in a vote.

What if a member does not approve a shadow vote on their behalf?

“They can come back after the fact and say, ‘I was shown to vote yes, show me to vote’ no, ‘Herman said.

Herman’s advice? Just press your own button.

“You went to the trouble to get elected, to go to Austin, you are so close to your office,” he said. “Go ahead and walk those few extra feet to vote – would that kill you?”

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