House Rules - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

13 Investigates

House Rules

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Rep. Kersey casts simultaneous votes for himself and Rep. Goodin. Rep. Kersey casts simultaneous votes for himself and Rep. Goodin.
Empty seats are not uncommon during House debates and voting. Empty seats are not uncommon during House debates and voting.
House Speaker Pat Bauer says he hasn't noticed double voting but will start looking for it. House Speaker Pat Bauer says he hasn't noticed double voting but will start looking for it.
Rep. Vernon Smith votes for Rep. Klinker, even though she is trying to cast her own vote. Rep. Vernon Smith votes for Rep. Klinker, even though she is trying to cast her own vote.
Minority Leader Brian Bosma thinks representatives need more time to vote. Minority Leader Brian Bosma thinks representatives need more time to vote.
Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - An Eyewitness News investigation has found widespread double voting in the Indiana House of Representatives. House leaders say the practice will stop after 13 Investigates observed state representatives repeatedly casting votes for other representatives - a practice that is prohibited by state rules.

"It should not happen," said House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend). "They're not supposed to do it. That's the bottom line."

During the current legislative session, 13 Investigates videotaped voting from balconies on both sides of the House chamber. The video shows dozens of instances in which representatives pressed the electronic voting buttons of fellow House members who were not in their seats. In many cases, the lawmakers were not on the floor of the House of Representatives when someone else cast their votes, and it was unclear whether they were present anywhere in the House chamber.

After watching WTHR's videotape, House Minority Leader Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) admitted "it is a problem."

"It is something that needs to be emphasized, there's no doubt about that," Bosma said. "There are a few folks who appear not to be able to stay in their seats in a continuing basis. They were elected to be here to cast votes."

A chronic problem

While WTHR saw members of both political parties cast multiple votes, chronic double voting occurred most often by Democrats.

Over a two-day period, 13 Investigates observed Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute) cast ten votes for fellow-Democrats Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Austin) and Rep. Vern Tincher (D-Terre Haute), who were not on the House floor at the time of the votes. WTHR saw Goodin and Tincher double vote, as well.

None of those lawmakers wanted to discuss the issue on-camera, but Kersey told WTHR, "I know how they want to vote and I have their permission."

The seven-term state representative said casting votes for other lawmakers is nothing new.

"It's been like this ever since I've been in the House," said Kersey, who has been an Indiana state representative since 1996.

Asked if he would continue to vote for others, Kersey replied "Not now. You've got your cameras all over the place. But you have to realize, it's something that has not been enforced."

The enforcers

According to section 50.1 of the Rules of the House of Representatives, "No member shall vote for another member." The rules also state "any member who votes or attempts to vote for another member may be punished in such manner as the House may determine."

Bosma said when he was House Speaker from 2004-2006, he did enforce the double voting rule.

"We simply didn't allow any member to touch the voting machine of another member," he said.

Former House Speaker John Gregg said he, too, was strict about the rules.

"I couldn't stand seeing them vote for each other," Gregg said. "I enforced the rule because it's all about perception, and it sends the wrong the message when members aren't voting for themselves. People watching the system think ‘Why is someone else voting for them? That doesn't seem right.' So when I saw it, I'd call them on it."

The current Speaker says, despite standing on a podium facing all members of the House of Representatives, he did not notice the double voting observed by WTHR.

"I don't see it all the time because I'm focused on who wants to speak next and actually what the amendment is and whether members are following other rules like saying bad things about somebody in the [microphone] that they're not supposed to."

"Has got to stop"

One of the state's most prominent political watchdogs believes it is now time for House leaders to re-focus attention on double voting.

"Leadership should step up and say ‘this practice has got to stop,'" said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana. "If they're ignoring a really simple rule like don't vote for somebody else, it raises serious questions about the more complicated rules. What else are they ignoring?"

Vaughn said the 13 Investigates video is disturbing not only because it shows representatives missing the opportunity to cast their own votes, but also because it shows many lawmakers are absent from the House chamber during discussion and debate leading up to those votes.

"The public wants reassurance that our legislators are fully engaged in debate about important public issues. If you're not in the room, then you're probably not fully engaged in the debate," Vaughn said. "It calls into question how much information our legislators are getting before they vote."

Why it happens

Both Democrats and Republicans insist lawmakers leaving their seats is a necessity.

"They get up and go to the bathroom, they ask someone to vote for them. They're out in the hallway, they tell someone to vote for them," explained Bauer. "Sitting sometimes too long can give you blood clots in your legs, so you can't tell them not to stretch their legs or go to the bathroom."

And when the legislative session reaches its final weeks, it often means very long days for lawmakers.

"There was a day this week where we went for nine hours straight, no bathroom break or chance to get a sandwich other than to step off the floor," Bosma said. "There are numerous reasons why a member would need to leave their seat."

The Republican leader says some of those reasons include meeting with a constituent outside the House chamber, attending to business in the state Senate and meeting with other representatives to discuss an upcoming piece of legislation.

A race against time

Bosma contends Bauer does not give members long enough to cast their votes, which may encourage another representative to vote for them.

"There needs to be enough time for a person to return to their seat and under the current leadership, that time frame has been very short," Bosma said.

The speaker disagrees.

Bauer said members who are in the House chamber and cannot make it back to their seat in time to press their voting button can give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" signal to the Speaker, who will record a vote on their behalf. WTHR observed that happen on nearly every vote.

We also noticed lawmakers give hand signals to other House members, who then cast a vote on their behalf.

"It's not a high crime," Bauer said of the practice.

But voting for someone who is not on the floor of the House is highly discouraged, according to the Speaker.

"They should be in their seats 99% of the time and it should be an aberration that they're out in the hallway or talking to a constituent," he said. "The people's business needs to be done and they need to be here for it."

Even when lawmakers are present on the House floor, WTHR found at times they are unable to cast their vote before another lawmaker does it for them.

13 Investigates watched Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) vote five times for Rep. Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette), and on four of those occasions, Klinker was walking toward her voting machine (and just a few steps away) when Smith voted for her.

Klinker told WTHR she doesn't give anyone permission to cast her vote and reminds fellow representatives not to vote on her behalf.

"We're not supposed to be doing that," Klinker said. "When I see it, I tell them not to."

But while 13 Investigates observed Smith vote for Klinker, we also noticed Klinker vote for Smith.

Smith declined to comment for this report, telling investigative reporter Bob Segall "I'm not going to talk to you."

"Won't do it again"

Other House members did agree to talk with WTHR.

Goodin said he didn't realize he was breaking a rule by voting for another member.

"If it's a rule, then clearly I broke the rules and I'll apologize to anyone I need to apologize to," he said. "The rules need to be followed and I can assure you, I won't do it again."

Following WTHR's investigation, House and party leaders have promised a more proactive approach in enforcing the rules.

"We'll just strengthen our resolve in that matter," Bauer said. "Every now and then there comes a point where you have to reprimand someone. That's happened in the past and maybe it's going to happen much more in the future."

In the Indiana Senate, 13 Investigates did not see any double voting at all.
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