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Mississippi legislative voting often confusing

 

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

 

JACKSON -- Mississippi lawmakers consider hundreds of bills each year. While most votes are straightforward, House and Senate operating rules can make it difficult for spectators -- or even new lawmakers -- to understand what's happening when legislation passes or fails. 

 

For example, under a Senate procedure known as voting by use of the morning roll call --or, if senators start work later in the day, voting by use of the afternoon roll call -- a member can be counted as voting for a bill, resolution or nomination when he or she is not even in the Capitol. 

 

As long as the senator signs in at some point during the business day, that senator will be recorded as voting "yes" on any legislation that's handled by use of the morning, or afternoon, roll call. 

 

That happened just this past week when the Senate considered the nomination of Carey Wright as state superintendent of education. 

 

The recorded vote was 46-6 to confirm Wright. But, the vote was taken the afternoon of March 18, and three Republican senators who were recorded as voting "yes" had already left the Capitol for the day. 

 

Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville is running for U.S. Senate, and he had a campaign event the evening of March 18 in Ocean Springs. McDaniel and one of his top campaign workers, Sen. Melanie Sojourner of Natchez, were voting at the Capitol that morning -- but when senators dealt with the Wright confirmation in the afternoon, they were traveling to the coast. Sen. Sean Tindell of Gulfport also was at the Capitol the morning of March 18 but had departed before Wright's confirmation to go to a city meeting in Diamondhead. 

 

Because the Wright confirmation was handled by morning roll call, anyone wanting to vote "no" had to be in the chamber. All others were recorded voting "yes." 

 

Voting by use of the morning (or afternoon) roll call should not be confused with actually calling the roll. 

 

On some bills, a clerk reads senators' names and they call out their support or opposition. The clerk reads the list twice. Sometimes, that gives senators time to return to the chamber to cast a vote. Often, it gives them a chance to listen to the first roll call to know how the votes are going before deciding what they'll do. 

 

Then there's the Senate process of pair voting, which is like not voting at all because the paired votes don't count. One senator who's in the chamber can pair with a senator who's gone but who would've voted the opposite way had he or she been there. 

 

Moments before the Wright confirmation, the Senate passed a bond bill, and two other senators used pair voting to help absent colleagues. Republican Phillip Gandy of Waynesboro cast a "pair yes" for himself and a "pair no" for Watson, while Republican Josh Harkins of Flowood cast a "pair yes" for himself and a "pair no" for Sojourner. 

 

The House has an electronic voting board -- green for "yes," red for "no." But the tally that pops up after the roughly 30-second voting period isn't always the final tally. Members who want to change their votes have until the next legislative business day get unanimous consent from their colleagues to do so, as long as the change doesn't affect the outcome of the bill. Consent is usually given, unless the debate was particularly contentious or someone is particularly crabby. 

 

They had made arrangements because they knew the bond bill was coming. Several senators said they didn't know in advance that the Wright nomination was headed to a vote that afternoon.

 

 

 

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