Friday, November 13, 2015

Who's Missing? - Voting and Not Voting in Congress

One of the most important responsibilities of being a politician is voting on legislation.  We all know that most politicians vote along party lines, however, if they are not even present to vote, there is absolutely no way that they can represent any segment of those who voted them into office.  Fortunately, ProPublica has tracked the voting records of Members of Congress since 2007 and have developed a tool that enables every voter to see which Members of Congress have  missed the most votes and how many votes their own member has missed.  In this posting, I will provide you with a brief summary of Propublica's findings.

Here's a bit of background for you.  According to Rule III of the Rules of the House of Representatives:

"Every Member shall be present within the Hall of the House during its sittings, unless excused or necessarily prevented, and shall vote on each question put, unless having a direct personal or pecuniary interest in the event of such question."

That is a pretty clear job requirement. 

Let's start by looking at the top ten Members of Congress when it comes to missing votes and the percentage of votes that they have missed:

Let's look at the top three Members when it comes to missing votes.  The number one "vote misser" by a very wide margin is Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Illinois) who has been a Member since 1993.  He has missed 1549 votes out of a total of 6906.  Unlike the Senate, it is customary for Members of the House to submit the reasons why they have missed a vote and how they would have voted had they been present; Rep. Rush has elected to do so in only 407 or 26.3 percent of the time.  His most common explanation for missing votes is due to medical matters (344 cases - he had a cancerous salivary gland removed in 2008).  In the current Congress, he ranks tenth in votes missed out of 434 voting Members, making it appear that he a chronic vote misser.

The number two "vote misser" is Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Illinois) who has also been a Member since 1993.  He has missed 1044 votes out of 6902 and has explained his missed vote in only 435 or 41.7 percent of cases.  His most common explanations for missing votes are either ambiguous or no reason given (335 cases) and personal or family matter (68 cases).  He ranks number 6 in votes missed in the current Congress.

The number three "vote misser" is Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) who has been a Member since 1997.  He has missed 874 votes out of 6906 and has explained his missed vote in only 128 or 14.6 percent of cases.  His most common explanations for missing votes are either ambiguous or no reason given (58 cases) or for a personal or family matter (55 cases).  He has the distinction of being in first place when it comes to missing votes in the current Congress.

Now, let's switch gears for a moment and look at the Senate.  Here is a listing of the top ten Senators when it comes to missing votes in 2015, the percentage of votes that they have missed and a history of missed votes going back to 2007:

As we know, four high profile Senators are running for the Republican Presidential nomination.  Let's look at their attendance records:

Obviously, hustling for votes has distracted these four gentlemen from one of their key duties as a Senator.

As I noted above, Members of the House of Representatives have the option to provide a reason for missing a vote.  Overall, only one in six absences are explained but those that do take the time to explain away their missed votes have some interesting excuses.  Here are screen captures showing some of them:

1.) Jeff Landry (R - Louisiana): I lost track of time.

2.) Ben Ray Lujan (D - New Mexico): I couldn't work the House voting machine.

3.) Luis Gutierrez (D - Illinois): I was busy protesting.

4.) Adam Smith (D - Washington): Oops, I hit the wrong button.

If you are interested, you can look up your own Member's voting and excuse record by clicking here.

When you take the time to look at the attendance records and the general lack of personal explanations provided by Members for their absences, it should come as no shock that Congress gets an approval rating in the very, very low double digits as shown on this graphic:


  1. From my review of this ProPublica report, I am more concerned that "opponents" will misapply the report for political gain.
    For example, can't you see the flyer "Ken Buck missed missed 59 of 581 eligible votes during his first nine months in Congress. Did Coloradans send him to Washington to vote on issues helping working families ?"
    Like they say in the NFL, "upon further review", maybe he deserves some slack. He missed several votes in September while home recovering from back surgery, and for a trip to Kansas for the pinning ceremony of his son’s promotion in the U.S. Army.

    “As for logging a reason in the Congressional Record, I think as one of the most conservative members of Congress, Rep. Buck’s position on issues is pretty clear,” said spokesman Kyle Huwa. “Also, constituents are encouraged to reach out to his office if they have questions about how he would have voted.”

    This is strictly a "numbers" thing ... with no consideration of the significance of the legislation being voted on.
    For example, on Roll Call 490, 19 Republicans and 24 Democrats missed the vote ... including one Member from Minnesota ... she had stayed in her district to attended a memorial service for a fireman who was killed in the line of duty. Would her vote matter ? Doubtful ... the final count was 388 Yes 2 No.
    Yet, this ProPublica report will be used to trash her.

    My suggestion ... look at your Member's actual record ... see why they missed the vote ... and who else missed it.
    (Funny thing is that in Minnesota both a Republican and Democrat missed the same vote ... giving the same reason ... flight weather problems. I will give both of them a pass ... especially since the vote wasn't close.

    Just my thoughts.

  2. QUERY : Which is a better question ==
    Why did Eight Members fail to vote yesterday on H.R. 3114
    Why did three Members vote NO ?

    The ProPublica reporting would imply that failure to vote is a mortal sin ,,, without regard to the value of the legislation.

    The House leadership determined that HR 3114 needed to be moved forward to the Senate ... as opposed to HR 1786 the 9/11 First Responders Reauthorization Act. HR 1786 has 249 co-sponsors. Congress allowed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to lapse on September 30, 2015. That would leave everyone enrolled in the medical program in limbo – 73,000 individuals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    So that bill and others wait ... but Pro Publica would have us be concerned with who missed voting on HR 3114.
    And what is HR 3114 ?
    HR 3114 gives the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) the authority to hire veterans to catalogue artifacts and historic items -- estimated cost $4.5 million annually.
    What's the motivation here ???? How about so that House Members can promote helping veterans obtain jobs in their next campaign flyers by referencing this bill ... and no doubt if the Member is a Republican can also put somewhere in the flyer that "Washington's spending is out of control and they must do more with less"
    Well, actually the only ones that can probably say they can point to HR 3114 as say "Washington's spending is out of control" is the three Republicans who voted no.