April 1, 2006

Rep. Melissa Bean proposes much needed service

Mellisa Bean, D-Illinois made an excellent proposal during a hearing on lobbying reform Thursday.

As I've noticed to my frustration, despite the enormous amount of websites and information out there regarding both federal and state legislatures, complete with text of bills, committee memberships, committee web sites, and literally millions of pages of information, there remains one glaring omission.

If a citizen wants to go online and find the voting record of their state or U.S. Senator or Representitive, they're simply out of luck.

As hard as it may be to believe, there is simply no source for this information, which after all, is the most basic, and most critical information which a citizen would need to see how their representitives in the legislature are actually representing them!

Yet in what must be a very much premeditated effort, this information is presented nowhere, and certainly not in any easily accessible way.

Bean's proposal is simple and would seem to be a no-brainer, that the congress simply provide a web site which would allow all to search for and easily find the voting records of any senator or representitive.

I certainly hope it happens, though with Republican majorities in both bodies, and their obvious desire to "hide the ball" so to speak from the public, I can't hold out much hope.

9 Comments:

At 4/01/2006 4:56 PM, Blogger highxlr8r said...

I agree that another system to search for votes might be nice. I would hope voters are willing to pay the costs.

Although the current system is adequate (all one would need to do is get a list of bills you want to know about, find the date they voted on it, and go to the house website) it would be much easier to bring up a senator's name and the list of all his votes.

It is a MASSIVE project though, when you realize that there are 535 representatives to cover, and an average of about 500 votes per year. I am looking forward to what happens with this.

 
At 4/01/2006 6:33 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

That's just it High...

A person has to actually KNOW what bill number they're looking for. To expect that of the average citizen is ridiculous.

If you're a lobbyist or something... fine. But what is not present is the ability for a citizen to go to a source and look up their representitive and simply see their voting record.

Rather than having to be searching for a specific bill, you could browse and see how they voted on, say, the bankrupcy bill, or the prescription drug bill, etc.

There could be brief descriptions of what the bill represents and what a yea or nay vote represents.

Trust me, this wouldn't be as monumental an undertaking as you suggest. This information is already recorded and likely is in a database form already. It would be a relatively simple matter to adopt it into a searchable database.

I'm not saying it would be a snap... but with a few skilled people working on it, it could easily be accomplished.

Hell, you've already mentioned that people can search by bill number, the only thing that would change is you'd be able to search by legislator as well.

Not that radical a change.

Then people who hear about a bill in the media, they usually don't exactly remember it as supplemental bill S.R. 2293 or whatever. But they do hear about the "social security bill" or the bill about port security or whatever.

This would simply give the vast majority of people the ability to quickly and fairly easily see how their representitives are voting.

 
At 4/01/2006 7:23 PM, Blogger highxlr8r said...

The biggest difficulty I think is that right now, the system does not include the representative as a searchable field. It would not be too difficult to do it from now forward.

Retroactive might be time-consuming, however, because, as I said, the vote by senator doesn't appear to be a separate data-entry field.

But I do agree with the idea's merit and it should certainly be looked into, as long as in the meantime it isn't used as an excuse by voters not to do the work themselves. I support making things as easy as possible for voters, but we should not back down from exercising our right to know just because our current elected officials make the job difficult.

 
At 4/02/2006 11:48 AM, Blogger hud50 said...

http://thomas.loc.gov/

 
At 4/02/2006 11:54 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Again, scads of information without anything about how each legislator actually VOTED on individual bills.

 
At 4/02/2006 12:06 PM, Blogger Carl Nyberg said...

Thomas could add some features, but it has the raw information.

There's also Project Vote Smart. In addition to having interest group ratings Vote Smart has "non-partisan" candidate questionnaires.

 
At 4/02/2006 12:09 PM, Blogger Carl Nyberg said...

Dope,

Within the entry for each roll call vote Thomas has a list of how each member voted. You can't enter with the argument "Rep. Melissa Bean" and get a list of her votes.

However, if you know what votes you want to know about you can look it up.

This is an area where interest groups play a valuable roll of sorting through the votes and determining which are worth paying attention to.

 
At 4/02/2006 12:16 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Again, all these comments about what IS available, but the fact remains that what Bean proposes and what I've noted is impossible at this this time still doesn't exist, namely, as you've said, you still cannot look up a legislator and see a list of bills and how they voted on them.

For instance, if you happen to be watching a hearing on C-Span on a bill or perhaps a debate on the floor, they may not mention the specific bill number. But afterwards you may want to know how, say, Obama, or Evans voted...

You have no way to find out, unless you have the bill number or furtehr information.

Also, it should be available, as a tool to judge any incumbent candidate, to be able to look up their voting record. As it stands, this is impossible, to my knowledge, as there is no place where individual legislator's voting records are available.

I hope that this ability is made available soon.

 
At 4/03/2006 6:51 PM, Blogger Cal Skinner said...

The original Illinois Legislative Information System was deliberately designed so that one could not find a legislator's vote.

Congress is probably acting under the same motive, probably just to make things as difficult as possible to hold congressmen responsible.

 

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