A nasty snit between two southwest Washington lawmakers highlights a failure of leadership in the state House of Representatives.
Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, has accused Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Camas, of letting her Republican colleagues vote for her “for hours on end” over a two-week period.
A story in the Vancouver Columbian newspaper outlined the attack and counterattack.
Herrera is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Brian Baird. Until recently, Wallace was in the congressional race, too.
The Columbian quoted Wallace as saying that Herrera missed multiple House votes, but her colleagues were covering for her by casting votes on her behalf.
“Either (Herrera) is in the building fundraising, which is illegal, or she is off campus and she has not been excused,” Wallace charged.
Herrera fired back, “Deb has no credibility, she has no proof.”
The nastiness once again shines the spotlight on abuse of the voting system on the House floor — abuse that cries out for reform. Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, refuse to stop House members from voting for one another — a practice that should be prohibited.
This is not a new problem. In the 1980s, an Olympian reporter caught former Rep. Jim Jessernig, a Democrat from the Tri-Cities, casting 17 votes on one bill.
He was a floor leader at the time and he simply moved up and down the aisle on the House floor punching the voting button on the desks of absent Democrats.
Jessernig did that repeatedly until the tardy lawmakers eventually found their way to their desk on the House floor.
That same reporter caught colleagues of the late Rep. Sim Wilson, a Republican from Marysville, voting for Wilson while he was off the Capitol Campus collecting his laundry.
Talk about taking the voters to the cleaners.
How is this possible? Simple.
In the state Senate the 49 members must cast their own vote. They do it orally every time a roll call is taken. As the clerk reads the individual senators’ names, each responds with an “aye” or “nay.”
There is no possibility for fraud because the senators are prohibited from voting for others. Absent or excused senators are recorded as such.
Yes, it takes a little bit of time to record the votes of 49 senators, but at least the vote tally is an honest account of each senator’s vote.
The House has 98 members and an automated voting system.
An electronic tote board hangs over the head of the speaker at the rostrum. The board lists the names of each representative.
At the desk of each representative is a box with voting buttons. When a vote is announced, lawmakers must punch either the green button for “yes” or the red button for “no.” Individual votes are noted on the tote board and the speaker locks the roll call machine and has the clerk take an electronic record.
The problem is representatives don’t have to punch their own button. As the Jessernig example shows, one lawmaker can cast multiple votes simply by moving among the desks.
That’s what Wallace is alleging happened with Republicans casting multiple votes for Herrera.
Yes, it’s wrong.
Yes, it’s dishonest.
And, yes, the fraudulent practice will continue.
It will continue because Speaker Chopp and Minority Leader DeBolt let it happen.
They offer the excuse that lawmakers must be off the House floor at times dealing with constituents or assembled together working out compromises on legislation. They say as long as the absent members are in close proximity, it’s OK for their colleagues to vote for them.
But, it’s not OK. If it was OK, why not elect a lone representative and allow him or her to cast all the votes necessary? It would certainly be a lot cheaper.
If lawmakers need to be away from their desk — and there are many legitimate reasons to be away during a hectic legislative session — they should asked to be excused.
They can explain why they missed a vote if challenged.
“If (members) leave the campus, they are supposed to excuse themselves,” DeBolt told the Columbian. “We have a hard and fast rule about that.”
We suggest there be a hard and fast rule that House members can only vote for themselves. Integrity in the system of governance demands it.