A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 30, 2007
Ghost Voting (Button Punching; Button Pushing)

"Ghost voting” (also called “button punching” or “button pushing") occurs in the Texas House of Representatives when a representative is away from the desk, and another representative pushes the button on that desk, recording a vote for the absent legislator. This “ghost voting” was filmed in 2007 and put on YouTube, but “button punching” has existed since the 1920s. The procedure is against the written rules of the Texas House. The Texas Senate records votes by roll calls.

“Ghost voting” meaning “a recorded vote in an election by a registered voter who is deceased” is a form of voter fraud that has been cited in Texas from at least 1931. “Ghost voting” was also an issue in the United States House of Representatives in 1968.


14 June 1931, Port Arthur (TX) News, “Charge ‘Ghost Voting’ in City Election,” pg. 1, col. 2:
BEAUMONT, June 13.—Wholesale “ghost voting” at Port Arthur city election last month is charged in a new conical suit, in the nature of a quo warranto proceeding, on file in 58th district court today by Fred H. Drunagel against Jack M. Reagan. 

21 April 1937, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Cheating on Voting Machine Is Openly Charged in House,” section 1, pg. 3:
AUSTIN, Texas, April 20.—Sharp condemnation of button pushing in which electronic voting machine devices of members are operated in their absence was voiced Tuesday by Representative J. B. Patterson.
(...)
His speech was a repercussion of the first night meeting of the session to work on controversial legislation. On several ballots which were not recorded, he said, the voting machine showed 147 present, just three short of the full membership, while on a succeeding record vote only 104 were shown present.

“It is downright dishonest,” he said. “This button-pushing practice should be stopped. It strikes at the integrity of the House.”

27 January 1959, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Carr Calls on Legislators for Business-like Session” by Richard M. Morehead, section 1, pg. 9:
AUSTIN, Texas—House members Monday applauded Speaker Waggoner Carr’s plea for the Legislature to get down to work with “promptness and carefulness.”
(...)
He also deplored “button punching”, whereby absent members designate a secretary, another legislator or employe to vote in their place on the electric machine. Carr said he knew of at least one instance whereby a mistake in casting the absent member’s vote caused his defeat in a later election.

27 February 1959, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “3 Votes—All Wrong—Cost House a Day Off” by Jimmy Banks, section 1, pg. 19:
The House rules provide for expulsion of any member found guilty of illegal voting, but it is a fairly common practice which was widely criticized last session.

Rule 11.6-B states: “Any member found guilty by the House of knowingly voting for another member on the voting machine shall be subject to expulsion from the House. Any officer or employe found guilty of such offense shall be subject to discharge by the House, in case of officers, or by the Speaker, in case of employes.”

An annotation to that rule adds:

“‘Button-pushing’ should not be tolerated. Most serious of the several consequences resulting from this bad practice may be a vote recorded for or against some important motion or measure which will result in embarrassment to the absent member voted. Such a vote may not be detected until after the permanent journal is published and then it would be too late to make correction.”

The voting buttons on each member’s desk in the House can be locked, but the representatives usually leave the keys in the locks.

28 February 1959, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Button-Punching Goes On Despite Speaker’s Warning” by Aillen Duckworth, section 1, pg. 7:
AUSTIN, Texas—The game of “Button, Button, Who Punched Whose Button?” continued in the house Friday in spite of a warning from the Speaker.

Evidence that one member voted three times—once for himself and twice for two absent members—at Thursday’s session brought demands from several members that the rules against such practices be strictly enforced.

Button-pushing for absentees evidently continued to some extent, however, in spite of the Speaker’s warning that enforcement of the rules had been requested.

Members vote and register their presence by pushing buttons that record their votes on a master electric voting machine in the House.

15 August 1961, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Ghost-Voting at Austin,” section 4, pg. 4:
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to take lightly the news that laws are being passed at Austin by votes cast by others than the lawfully elected legislator credited with the individual vote. It has been a practice, we are informed, for some members to leave the key (with which the electrical circuit is opened for recording a vote) in place at the desk. Sometimes with the consent or by the instruction of the member, sometimes without any authority whatever, the key is used to record a vote. At times, more votes are recorded on the electrical result board than can be matched by the total number of voting members present in the chamber.

27 September 1968, Brownsville (TX) Herald, pg. 10, cols. 2-5:
“Ghost Voting” Probed In House
EDITORS NOTE: The author of the following dispatch heads UPI’s House staff and is the reporter who uncovered the practice of ghost voting which it describes.
By FRANK ELEAZER

WASHINGTON (UPI)—House leaders have uncovered and stamped out a ghost-voting practice by which some lawmakers apparently have been able to be recorded as voting yes or no without being present.

More frequently, and almost as bad in the eyes of the leadership, some members have been listed as present on quorum calls although actually in their offices or back in their home states.

1 July 1972, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Attendance Tally Vote Shows Laziness Persists” by Stewart Davis, section A, pg. 15:
This is exactly the relaxed attitude which got the lawmakers into trouble over “button pushing” in the 1969 and 1971 sessions, when members freely pressed the vote buttons for their absent colleagues.

Naturally, they always explained that they were voting as instructed by their absent colleagues, or, in some instances, as they knew their colleagues would want to vote.

In one case, a member took a little vacation to Colorado and was never missed (until afterward) because his friendly colleagues had pushed his voting button.

Button Pushing
Some button pushing still goes on, when a member is temporarily away from his desk, but nothing like the wholesale proxy balloting in the past.

18 April 1980, Mountain Democrat (Placerville, CA), pg. C2, col. 2:
Now that the reprehensible practice of ghost voting in the State Assembly has once again been exposed by the press, excuses are being offered. For the uninitiated, ghost voting is the practice whereby one member pushes the voting button of one or more absent members. The excuses being put forth are plain hogwash.

The one most often used is the claim that the member was present but in another part of the chambers. On occasion this is true. More often the absent members are lollygagging in an ante-room drinking coffee or something stronger. But most often they are in another part of the Capitol or away from the Capitol entirely.

7 December 2004, Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, “Critics Say Texas Lawmakers Should Lay ‘Ghost Voting’ to Rest” by Jay Root:
If the last several decades are any guide, many state representatives will be registered as present and voting even though they won’t be anywhere near their electronic voting machines, or sometimes even in Austin, after the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 11.

That’s because House members routinely break their own rules by voting for one another on the floor, making it impossible for Texans to know whether their representatives are showing up for work or casting their own votes.

“That has been going on since the very first time the Legislature met,” said Suzy Woodford, head of the Texas branch of Common Cause, which is pushing for more transparency in the Legislature. “They shouldn’t do it.”

Woodford’s group is among dozens of organizations calling on the House to record all final votes. Many House bills, some of them controversial, are adopted by voice vote, leaving no record of how the 150 members voted.

But Woodford said any voting changes won’t be effective if the members continue the tradition of “ghost voting,” using 30-year-old technology that makes the practice as simple as pushing a button.

In the 31-member state Senate, votes are recorded by old-fashioned roll call, so voting for someone else is not possible, officials say.

House rules are and have been explicit on the subject. The current version states: “Any member found guilty by the house of knowingly voting for another member on the voting machine shall be reported immediately to the speaker for such disciplinary action by the speaker, or by the house, as may be warranted under the circumstances.”

But that, or the even tougher penalties theoretically in place in the 1950s—when members faced expulsion from the House—has not come close to stopping the practice.

It was known as “button pushing” back then. Now it’s usually called ghost voting. But the name is about the only thing that’s changed.
(...)
In 1991, state Rep. Larry Evans, D-Houston, was found to have voted after a coroner declared him dead. The story made national news.
(...)
House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, whose own vacant voting machine was observed being punched by a fellow member a few years ago, “trusts that the members will be there to vote,” said his press secretary, Bob Richter.

Other than that, Richter said that Craddick has no intention of leading a charge to change the process, though he noted that other members are free to try when a House rules committee convenes early next year.

“We all know it’s going on. There has been no hue and cry over the years to change it,” Richter said. “They all kind of look the other way. It’s not worth it to go after them like a bunch of school kids.”

Texas was ahead of most states when it bought an automatic voting system in 1922—which is about the time the button-pushing began, news reports suggest. The machine was replaced in the 1940s, but that one began to falter by the early 1960s.
(...)
If nothing else, the embrace of the rule-breaking tradition by Democrats and Republicans shows that bipartisanship still lives in the Texas Legislature. It is not uncommon to see a Republican vote one way and then vote another way for his absent Democratic deskmate—or vice versa.

Austin (TX) American-Statesman
LEGISLATURE
“Ghost voting” haunts the House
TV report enrages viewers on YouTube, spurs talk of change.
By Laylan Copelin
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It’s a common practice and a perennial news story: Texas lawmakers voting electronically for their colleagues who are not sitting at their desks. Yet when CBS 42 KEYE’s Nanci Wilson did her version in the spring, it struck a chord among voters that is prompting the House of Representatives to explore making the first change in its voting methods in decades.

“It was the perfect TV story,” Wilson said of the video showing House members voting two, three or four times as they turned in their seats or walked up the aisles to press the “yea” or “nay” buttons on behalf of their absent colleagues. Lawmakers

The initial story was broadcast locally in May. In September, when someone posted it on YouTube, it went viral, as they say in the virtual world, with people e-mailing it to one another.

Austin (TX) American-Statesman
House ghosts dangling from World Wide Web
By The Editorial Board | Saturday, December 29, 2007, 06:04 PM

It’s hard to embarrass the Texas House of Representatives. But the combination of a television news report last spring, an Internet Web site and a large dose of public disgust may force the lower chamber to stop “ghost voting.”

When the full, 150-member House is meeting in its chamber at the Capitol, ghost voting is when one representative votes for a colleague by pushing the appropriate button on the colleague’s desk. The vote might be on bills, proposed amendments, resolutions or even constitutional amendments.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Sunday, December 30, 2007 • Permalink