A Plain Aye or Nay Will Do


In the California Legislature, it’s not always so important who votes yes or no on legislation, but who doesn’t vote at all. The ongoing scandal of lawmakers ducking votes that could haunt them at election time has been reported anecdotally. Now, four USC graduate students have documented just how extensive the practice is. Legislators more and more frequently are escaping accountability.

The students, in the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development, studied every vote during the 2000-01 Assembly session. They found that “nonvoting” was killing a substantial proportion of bills.

Some legislators use nonvoting to evade controversial issues that might pop up in the next election campaign or, more often, in a contested primary. But failing to vote, they are now finding, can be an issue itself. Consider state Sen. Mike Machado (D-Linden), whose Republican rival, Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto, accuses him of missing votes that might have angered business interests, labor unions and other would-be contributors.


The USC study found that in 70% of bills that were defeated, the number of nonvoters was large enough to have affected the bill’s outcome. The record in committee votes was even worse.

The top nonvoters were Democrats, mostly moderates who want to stay in the good graces of the business community yet not anger fellow Democrats or union supporters. They often ducked consumer and environmental legislation. The No. 1 nonvoter was Jerome Horton (D-Inglewood), who skipped 60% of votes, followed by Manny Diaz (D-San Jose) at just under 50%. The No. 1 voter was Assemblyman Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks), who voted on every single bill. No. 2 was Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark).

If the nonvoting problem persists, the progressive Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights says it will sponsor a ballot initiative in 2006 that would deny legislators their pay when they fail to vote. Voters should also start considering votes ducked, as well as votes made, by their legislators.