Opinion

Record lawmakers' votes

Few would argue that South Carolinians have a fundamental right to know how their elected office-holders vote on legislation or other matters. The question, then, is how those votes should be recorded.

As state lawmakers prepare to return to Columbia next month, the buzz word is "transparency." Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler has pre-filed a bill calling for more roll call votes in the Senate, much like the one already approved in the House.

Under the new rules passed by the House, roll call votes would be required on every bill involving spending at least $10,000, anything tied to the state budget, taxes or fees; ethics and campaign finance laws; elections and redistricting.

On voice votes, every lawmaker would be recorded as voting yes. Those who oppose the measure then would be obligated to go to the House clerk's desk to have their votes properly recorded.

Voice votes are used to speed up the legislative process. They serve a legitimate purpose when the issue is a proclamation or routine order of business, such as honoring a citizen.

But voice votes also have been used to allow legislators to hide their votes from public scrutiny. The lack of recorded roll call votes is at the heart of this controversy. Over the past two years, fewer than 10 percent of House votes were recorded, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

It is hard to understand why all votes aren't recorded electronically. That would be as fast and effective as a voice vote.

The House already is equipped to do so. All 124 members can push a button to vote electronically.

The same equipment should be installed in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said that, with the state in a recession, this is no time to buy voting machines for the Senate. Peeler, however, concedes that the time may have come to consider electronic voting in the Senate, where roll call votes now are handled by voice vote.

Measures requiring recorded votes on most legislation would be a big step forward. But we see no reason why all votes shouldn't be automatically recorded electronically.

If the technology exists to give the public full access to how their elected officials vote, why not use it?

IN SUMMARY

State lawmakers should be required to vote electronically on most, if not all, matters.

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