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Are voting records fair?

By BigZaphod in Op-Ed
Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 06:44:15 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

As I sat here and voted on stories in the submission queue, it occurred to me that if people were watching how I voted and trying to find patterns that define how I think they would be very confused. We do this to our politicians all the time. Is it fair?

(This might be US-Centric since I don't know how other systems do it)

During campaign time there is often a lot of discussion on both sides about voting records. If the debate is between two people who have been in public office for years, there is bound to be some mud slinging about how candidate X voted for issue Y over Z number of times or some such nonsense. But is it really fair? I do know that voting records are a key element of the political process--after all the vote itself is one of the main reasons we elect them into office in the first place.

I think that using pure voting records against politicians is not really fair is because there could be any number of reasons why the vote was cast the way it was. For example, in my own personal experience here on K5, I might vote a story down because I just got done reading 3 other "Linux is best" stories on Slashdot and even though the story in the queue might be about something else Linux related I was just too sick of it to care. I can see stuff like this being a problem in government as well. If a bill has been discussed to death, a vote might reflect how the particular representative feels about how the talks went and not really about the bill itself. To me this is perfectly normal behavior for a human. But does that mean it should be excused? We often attempt to hold our politicians (and public figures in general) to very high standards that we could never live up to personally. For example, Dubya got in trouble when he was young for drinking. That has never happened to me, but it has happened to millions of Americans--and yet it was a huge deal in the press. Why should he have to live up to a standard that most people would find unacceptable? Unlike Kings and Queens of old, GWB was not born to be the future president. It just sort of happened that way. The same can be said for your average politician or public figure.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, if we keep using the raw voting records as a base for judgement on our politicians' viewpoints and stands on issues, I don't think we're getting the whole story. As a result we are being terribly unfair to our elected officials as well as ourselves. After all, they are just normal humans and are stuck with the same mood swings and all around oddities that make us who we are. If you take the vote out of context, it might not seem as strange and extremist as it does when it is just a statistic. The same can be said here on K5. Perhaps the best solution would be to add a second vote about the vote itself that would help give a reason for why a vote was cast the way it was. And I think a system like that would be a nice addition to K5 as well.

So, does anyone have any insights or opinions about this? Or is it something that's terribly well known and I'm just out of the loop on this one? (wouldn't be the first time :-)


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In general, voting records should...
o include a meta vote about the vote. 30%
o be deleted. 5%
o not change. 38%
o be recounted. 25%

Votes: 36
Results | Other Polls

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Are voting records fair? | 18 comments (17 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Voting records are all we have... (3.57 / 7) (#2)
by B'Trey on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 06:59:14 AM EST

First, there's a difference in someone's outside behavior (ie, Shrubya's drinking)and their voting record. A person's behavior affects pretty much only themselves, their family/acquintences, and perhaps a few others they have direct contact with. A politician's voting record affects the entier country.

I don't hold politicians to a higher standard than anyone else when it comes to their behavior, although I'm well aware that the press and others people do so. I don't care if Shrubya drank or snorted cocaine in his youth. I do care how he, and members of the congress, use the power granted to them by their constituents. And if a politican votes against a worthy bill because he's bored with the subject, he's not doing his job.

Voting records are the only way we have to judge politicians. You certainly can't depend upon what they say. You have to pay attention to what they do.

Takes research (3.33 / 3) (#7)
by ucblockhead on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 11:23:04 AM EST

But as finkployd mentions elsewhere, sometimes it takes a hell of a lot of research to get a true picture of what a vote means because of the unfortunate congressional behavior of taking thirty unrelated things together in one bill. Congressscum like to force each other into voting for bills like the "Home care for destitute veterans and capital punishment for abortion doctors" bill.

"Candidate X voted to execute those supporting a woman's right to choose!!!!"
"Candidate Y voted against helping poor, destitute veterans!!!!"

And don't expect the press to do that research for you, either.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Difference (3.00 / 2) (#8)
by Devil Ducky on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 12:35:04 PM EST

While Dubya goin' off and drinking with his good ol boys may not affect me directly, it represents him. These things do make a statement about what type of a person a politician is.

Will (s)he be a politician who thinks of their constiteuents first, trying to do the right thing for them, listening to their votes/pleas? (is there anybody like this?)
or will (s)he be a regular politian, rushing in willy-nilly, only reconsidering what to do when they may lose some votes?

Devil Ducky

Immune to the Forces of Duct Tape
Day trading at it's Funnest
[ Parent ]
More importantly (4.77 / 9) (#3)
by finkployd on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 08:24:24 AM EST

The issue I have with voting records is that we only know the title and origional intent of the bill. Suppose party X writes a bill that outlaws kicking small dogs and cats, but tacks on an amendment that does something extreem that party Y disagrees with. Now when party Y votes against it because of the amendment, party X can go to the public and shout that members of party Y must support harming small, cute animals.

If you think this doesn't happen, it did in the last session of congress, and it affected us. A bill was written to provide a mechanism to give medals to civilians with outstanding public service records, with a part tacked on that expanded the FBI's ability to monitor communications over computers and made it easier to confiscate equipment. Most people in on this and that other site were outraged, but does that mean that they were against rewarding public service?

Both parties are equally guilty of this as far as I can see, and I'd go so far as to say that I believe some bills are introduced with strange amendments that were never intended to be passed. The party writing the bill just wanted to entice the other party to vote against to have some political ammo in the next election.

So, no, unless I have seen the complete text of the vote in question, I don't give any weight to the "candidate X voted againt bill Z" statement. Unfortunatly, I'll bet most Americans just take that statement at face value and draw conclusions from it.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
Voting matters? (4.75 / 4) (#4)
by yojimbo-san on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 10:08:04 AM EST

I don't have any reason to examine your voting habits, personally :-)

On the other hand, I do have a reason to examine the voting habits of a politician, especially one who is supposed to be "representing" me and my peers.

My vote-casting decision is supposed to be a measure of how much I trust the candidate to vote in ways that I would approve of, as I am barred by "democracy" from voting on everything (on the other hand, a free referendum on every issue would be impossible in the current technological/political/social climate).

You are free to vote arbitrarily on K5, voting just for your own personal amusement and personal interest in (your personal idea of) K5 itself. A politician should not be free to vote arbitrarily (although they are free-willed), and I like mechanisms that allow me to be informed.

Another thread would be that old favourite, the value of uninformed voting. And yet another would be the value of allowing un-related riders on bills.
Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim

I want my elected officials to... (4.66 / 3) (#5)
by Luke Scharf on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 10:43:17 AM EST

I want my elected officials to be objective, consistant, and reasonble in the duties to which (s)he is elected.

All they're supposed is talk and vote, so their voting had better match the above criteria. :-)

So It's Not Fair (3.33 / 6) (#6)
by the Epopt on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 11:17:33 AM EST

... to expect inhuman consistency from them. So what? They forfeit all claim to be treated as if they were human beings the moments they begin running for offices.
Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.

I don't know if the comparison is valid (4.50 / 4) (#9)
by /dev/niall on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 12:51:57 PM EST

... I mean, voting for what goes on the front page of K5 and how a nation should be operated are two totally different things. One would expect that those responsible for managing the latter would be a little more thoughtful and even-handed about the process. If they're prone to mood swings and find themselves "sick of" dealing with the issues surrounding their particular populance, then perhaps they're not cut out to be politicians.
"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
It Works! (4.50 / 4) (#10)
by Devil Ducky on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 12:55:34 PM EST

We complain about our politicians filandering and not listening to us and playing games and running off to Aruba on tax money and being nasty people who always smell funny. This is not new; our politicans are bad, power-hungry people, England's monarchy was filled with the same type (not now, they don't have power anymore), the roman emperors were the same, the Chinese have been dealing with this type of person for centuries, and do you really think that the Pharohs were nice guys?

The type of person who becomes a power-hungry a$$h0le once in office is easy to pick out in a line-up: "I pick that one. The one who is running for office. As a special bonus, I also choose everybody else." Everybody knows the adage involving power and humans, it IS true.

I am not asking for an overthrow of our government (what would we replace it with, anarchy does NOT work?), in fact I am lauding it. It is a triumph of our (America's) forefathers to how well we are protected from the corruption of government. The most revolutionary thing expressed in the Constitution of the United States is not the call for democracy, it is the checks and balances: the concept of preventing one person(s) of taking all control by using the fact that all people in a position to do so will try their hardest to do so. Knowing that power will corrupt two people prevents either from gaining "Absolute Power."

It is the very fact that politcal parties fight each other, and play finkployd's games that no one has succeeded at screwing up my life yet. While cabbage-head and cardboard boy were flinging mud at each other nothing was getting done, I'm not complaing because this means nothing was getting done incorrectly. The whole process allows for only a few things to get done a year, and what do we need government for? To build roads, arrest murderers, and employ them into a military to protect us from other governments' murderers.

So Bravo! I rejoice in the fact that I am alive and do not pay all of my money into the "king's coffers."

Devil Ducky

Immune to the Forces of Duct Tape
Day trading at it's Funnest
Voting Records Are Vital (4.75 / 4) (#11)
by Robert Uhl on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 01:04:10 PM EST

Complete voting records (including the text of the bills involved, or an unbiased summary) are essential to informed decisions. Here in Colorado the state mails out a remarkably unbiased little pamphlet which contains the complete text of every amendment and referendum as well as a summary and the views of supporters and opposers. It is a remarkably impartial document, and very useful to a voter. I cannot say that I would be opposed to a simple test which ensures that the voter has read the guide, and understands the issues.

Something similar for politicians would be wonderful. I wonder how many of them would be embarrassed to see their beloved `Food for Children/Three Airports in My Home District' laws brought out in public. It'd be great.

The only sound way to choose a politician is to try to predict how he will vote in the future. One can look at his rhetoric, but that can be misleading; he can run on a small-government platform, but not mention that his definition of a small government includes a tripled War on Drugs. His voting record shows how he performs in practice, under pressure. It's essential information.

reverse the question (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by radar bunny on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 02:02:33 PM EST

Would you rather not know how your congressman or senator voted? Would you rather them be able to vote down an important issue and then tell you they voted for it?

the key word here is


Also, most people don't consider a discussion of a politicians voting record to be mud slinging. Mud slinging *usually* refers to nitpicking over non political issues.

The way the records get used in attack ads (none / 0) (#13)
by ZanThrax on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 04:32:30 PM EST

pretty much makes it mudslinging. "Generic politician A voted against the great wonderful amendment that would have given you clean air and water without making you change your lifestyle one bit and raise your income and cut your taxes and walk your dog for you!" Of course, the ad doesn't mention that the other party put riders on the bill to make it completely unaceptable to anyone. "Well, yeah, it would also let the police come into your home unanounced at any time and plant evidence that they could arrest you for possesing later, and your first born would be required to spend 20 years working in a sweat shop, but he voted against all the good stuff too!" Maybe generic politician A had another good reason for voting against the bills. Perhaps he felt they were just feel good solutions with no actual ability to solve whatever problem they were supposed to address, or were simply going about it the wrong way. Just because a potential law is meant to fix random problem x doesn't mean that it is a good law.

Anyhow, my point is that accountability is important, but that's not what public voting records get used for. How many citizens actually look at the voting records for themselves? And besides, the interesting votes aren't what he voted against, its what did he vote for?

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

lesser of two evils? (3.00 / 1) (#14)
by radar bunny on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 05:52:55 PM EST

like so many other things, I guess its just the solution with the fewest problems. For me, Id rather know a poltician voted for/against something, and then he can tell me why and show some sort of evidence- but at least I know.

I will however say this.

I sometimes do wonder if anonymous voting would let policians vote they way they want and not be tied to special interest. Think about it -- theres a vote to do something to help people with health care -- but drug companies dont like it. So they make promises of suport, donations and so on if the congressmen votes for the bill. Now the congressman wants to vote against the bill, but will need their promised help to get reelected, so he votes against it. However, if it was anonymous, how wouyld they know and he could vote how he wanted. The only problem with this is that (for me) the biggest special interest is ME. And if im going to vote for and maybe even help him, I want to KNOW how he voted.

[ Parent ]
Yet another reason (none / 0) (#15)
by ZanThrax on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 11:26:22 PM EST

to get the corporations the hell out of campaign finance...

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

Only in principle (none / 0) (#17)
by radar bunny on Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 12:15:06 AM EST

But how do you do that without also imparing an individual's right to stay involved? Furthermore, you have the problem of taxation and represntation. If you tax a corporation, shouldn't they be allowed a say in what happens? And when you think about it, corporations don't get involved, people who work at corporations get invovled. For example, when you say that the a given corporation should stay out of politics you are really depriving the employees of that company of a stay out of politics. So now anyone who works for sony or time warner.. etc.. doesn't get a say?

I agree with you in principle, but when yo uget down to it, the whole idea is undoable

[ Parent ]
I have no problem with (none / 0) (#18)
by ZanThrax on Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 03:56:00 PM EST

  • corporations getting taxed without representation. Corporations aren't people, and don't have rights. They're simply a legal fiction, and my objections to their existence have been discussed elsewhere.
  • </
  • employees getting involved, on their own. (not because the company says so)
  • citizen groups lobbying together, even if they happen to all be employees of the same company, as long as the company isn't in control of it.
  • ul>

    Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
    [ Parent ]

recorded and unrecorded votes (none / 0) (#16)
by htom on Sat Jan 13, 2001 at 06:11:34 PM EST

One solution to all of this is that a bill, to pass, must pass by both recorded and unrecorded votes (not voice votes, but some mechanism where who voted for or against is not discoverable -- ever!)

The idea being that a congresscritter could vote "for" a bill, because his constituants were greatly in favor of it, or he wanted to be "on the record", but he could vote against it because he thought it was a bad bill.

Good bills will be passed in both votes.

Bad bills will be defeated in one or the other or both.

Of course, if a bill passes 90 - 10 publicly, but fails 49 - 51 in the "private" vote, there will be lots of shouting and accusations of people voting differently than their record shows -- but that's much better than bad laws being enacted.

Col. Jeff Cooper's First Rule of firearm safety: Always treat every firearm as if it's loaded. Always.
Are voting records fair? | 18 comments (17 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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