Methods of Floor Voting (transcript)

Today’s post is on the methods of voting on the floors of the California State Assembly and State Senate.

In the two houses of the California Legislature, there are differences in how voting by legislators is conducted on the floors of the State Assembly and State Senate. The main difference is that the Assembly uses an electronic means of recording votes on the floor while Senators record their votes with a verbal response to an announced roll call. The other major difference is that Assembly Members may change their votes under specified circumstances. Generally, Senators cannot.

We’ll first look at the rules governing voting in the Assembly. Under Assembly Rule 105 the ayes and noes are recorded by the electrical voting system on the final passage of all bills. The names of the Legislators and how they cast their votes are then entered in the Assembly Daily Journal. And pursuant to Assembly Rule 106, when begun, voting may not be interrupted except that before the vote is announced any legislator may have the total pending vote flashed on the visible screen recorder and then any Legislator may move a Call of the Assembly after the completion of the roll before that final vote has been announced.

Now let’s look at the Senate. Pursuant to Senate Rule 44, whenever a roll call is required by the Constitution or the Rules or it is ordered by the Senate or demanded by at least three legislators, every legislator within the Senate without debate answers aye or no when his or her name is called. This Rule requires that the names of legislators be called alphabetically, and a Senator may not vote or change his or her vote after the announcement of the final vote by the presiding officer.

There is an exception for the two party leaders. Under the Senate Rule, on a legislative day when the President Pro Tem or the Minority Floor Leader is in attendance throughout a session but he or she in absence of any objection may instruct the Secretary of the Senate to add his or her vote to any previously announced vote that was taken while he or she was performing a responsibility of their respective office. Here, then, is the limitation: provided that the outcome of the vote is not changed by the addition of their vote. As explained by Senate Rule 44, the intent of this paragraph is to allow the President Pro Tem and the Minority Floor Leader to carry out their unique and special duties that their offices hold without losing the opportunity to vote on matters before the State Senate.

As I discussed yesterday in my post “How California Municipalities are experimenting with voting,” cumulative voting is an electoral process in which voters have a number of votes equal to the number of seats to be elected. For example, if in an election there were three seats up for election, voters would have three votes that they could cast however they chose to – all for one candidate, or divided among multiple candidates. I also discussed yesterday that Mission Viejo is potentially going to be the first California city to adopt this electoral process. This sets up the obvious question, why adopt a new-to-California voting system?

The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) recently filed suit against Mission Viejo. Again, one asks why? Well, about one in five residents of Mission Viejo is Latinx, however for over a decade the city council has had no Latinx representation. The California Voting Rights Act prohibits district-based voting that would impair a protected class from appropriate representation. Specifically stated the CVRA was designed with “legislative intent to eliminate minority vote dilution.”

After a study, public hearings, and analysis by the city and SVREP, the city maintained their district-based voting. SVREP responded to the decision to maintain district-based voting with a lawsuit. The claim was that Mission Viejo’s district-based voting was a violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

The litigation ended with a settlement plan. SVREP and the City of Mission Viejo agreed that the district-based voting was to be replaced with the cumulative voting system. The city also agreed to put all five council seats up for election every four years. This means that every voter in Mission Viejo will have five votes to use however they wish, including casting all five votes for the same candidate in every city council election.

“If they can get 20 percent of voters to cast all of their votes for that one candidate, well then, they ought to have a voice,” SVREP’s attorney Kevin Shenkman said.

In 2013, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) proposed a bill to allow teens aged 16 and 17 to preregister to vote in order to promote registration and involvement in the political system. This bill, SB 113, was signed into law and enacted in 2014, and is now part of the California Elections Code §2102(2)(d).

Just last week, Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, posted on twitter the results for an 18-month study on preregistrations under the new Elections Code.

The results demonstrate a trend among young voters- almost 44% of preregistrations listed ‘No Party Preference’ with about 37% selecting ‘Democrat’ and 10% as ‘Republican’.

Preregistrations have increased in numbers over the past years. Padilla attributed some of the uptick in preregistration to current events, such as the Parkland, Florida shooting.

“The shooting has high school students very active, aware and engaged,” he said. “We’ve seen the numbers go up even recently.”

Whether this increase in registration and lack of party affiliation will continue will be followed over future years.