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Musical votes in Assembly chamber

June 12, 2012
Recent video taken by The Legislative Gazette reveals a game of musical votes taking place on the Assembly floor. Members, in videos shot over a period of two days, three weeks apart, are seen voting for other members with what appears to be consistent regularity.

The rules of the New York State Assembly stipulate specific regulations on how voting is executed. Representatives are only allowed one vote, just like the public. Assembly members may not vote multiple times or cast votes on behalf of another member.

Under the rules of the Assembly, if a member doesn't cast a vote, but has clocked in for session, the vote is automatically tallied as a "yes."

But with the electronic voting system used in the chamber, once a member has signed in for the day, it is possible, but not acceptable, to have another member push their button to register a vote should they leave the floor.

According to Joseph Zimmerman, political science professor at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, if one member voted for another, it "clearly would be against the rules."

Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the League of Women Voters, agrees. "It certainly is against the rules of the Assembly."

Take for instance the reciprocal relationship between members Phillip Goldfeder, D-Far Rockaway, and Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica. In video taken May 14, Goldfeder is seen voting for Brindisi, whose desk is situated next to him. On June 4, Brindisi returns the favor multiple times while Goldfeder is absent.

The same relationship is noticed between Harvey Weisenberg, D-Long Beach, and Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx. On May 14, video shows Stevenson voting for Weisenberg and on June 4, Weisenberg votes for Stevenson.

It isn't just Democrats who are flouting Assembly voting rules, however.

On May 14, video shows Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, casting votes for Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda, and Marc Butler, R-Newport. Later in the day, Hawley leaves and Giglio returns, casting votes for the now absent Hawley and continuing to vote for Butler.

On June 4, Edward Ra, R-Franklin Square, is seen casting a vote for Joseph Saladino, R-Massapequa.

Hawley, asked about his participation in the vote violations, said, "the only time I would have done that is when they [other Assembly members] did the thumbs up or gave me the eye to do it." He went on to say he had been under the assumption it was acceptable.

Brindisi echoed Hawley's sentiment, saying, "At the request of my fellow Assembly member and with his explicit consent, on rare occasions I've helped record a vote on non-controversial bills only when he'd briefly step away from his desk to move around the Assembly Chamber so that his vote is recorded accurately by the clerk and vice versa."

"It's disappointing," said Bartoletti of the practice. She believes the rule breaking stems from systemic issues within the Assembly. "With the leadership driven legislature, once a bill reaches the floor, it's predetermined," she said, going on to speculate that this discourages members from voting because they feel their votes don't matter.

Russ Haven, legislative council with the New York Public Interest Research Group, said, "Lawmakers are elected to be the voice of their constituents, including listening to and participating in debates and casting votes on behalf of folks in the district. That means they have to be present. Having another Assembly member cast your vote looks like a clear violation of the house rules."

Zimmerman said the blatant rule breaking by Assembly members could lead to verbal or written reprimands or, in the worst case, expulsion from the Legislature. However, action is up to Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who "would lead the investigation," said Zimmerman.

Justifying his actions, Goldfeder said, "Instead of asking a clerk help record your vote, you ask a member to help record your vote. Bottom line, it's still your vote."

Whatever the reason for the rule breaking, this behavior appears to be in direct violation to Assembly rules which read: "no vote shall be recorded unless the member voting is at his or her regularly assigned seat or is serving or acting as speaker, majority or minority leader."

The Senate is not bound by the same rules as the Assembly and allows members to vote via proxy.

A representative from Silver's office, Kerri Biche, commented that "members are required to cast their own votes." The speaker's office had no comment, at the time of publication, on whether or not an investigation into the allegations would be launched.

Brindisi said he "will refrain from extending this courtesy in the future to ensure there is no confusion that each member is recording their vote individually."

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    Musical votes in Assembly chamber
    June 12, 2012 | 02:07 PM

    The whole idea of a member of the assembly merely having to clock in for a yes vote to be recorded is a farce. That members are voting for other members should really come as no surprise given the way the assembly is run. The real question is now that its been exposed will anything come of it or will it just be more business as usual? Given the entrenched system of power i'm sure there will be lip service to changing it then it will continue to happen

    Charles C
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