Ayes and Nayes [and Neverminds]: Iowa Study Questions Value Of Voice Votes

booIn 2012, we discussed the embarrassingly transparent decision of the Democratic Party leadership to simply ignore the vote of the 22,000 delegates to refuse controversial changes to refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and add a reference to God. The move was viewed as necessary to secure Jewish votes and appeal to religious voters. The delegates however opposed on repeated voice votes — well short of the needed to two-thirds of the delegates. As shown in the video, in calling for a voice vote, the leadership was shocked and called for a new vote that came out the same way. The leadership just declared the vote as having passed by two-thirds acclamation. It was an embarrassing but telling moment for those who view the two parties as controlled by a small elite group of self-serving power brokers. Now, researchers at the University of Iowa in Iowa City have concluded that voice votes may not only politically but practically useless despite Robert’s Rules of Order.

Professor Ingo Titze was motivated by the scandal at the convention to run a test (he disagreed with those of use who felt that the result was clear). The results of his study were published this month in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The study found that, absent an overwhelming vote by two-thirds, it is difficult if not impossible to tell who won or who lost in a voice vote. The loudest voices prevail regardless of their numbers.

That challenges the approach of the Robert’s Rules:

The usual method of taking a vote is viva voce (by the voice). The rules require this method to be used in Congress. In small assemblies the vote is often taken by “show of hands,” or by “raising the right hand” as it is also called. The other methods of voting are by rising; by ballot; by roll call, or “yeas and nays,” as it is also called; by general consent; and by mail. In voting by any of the first three methods, the affirmative answer aye, or raise the right hand, or rise, as the case may be: then the negative answer no, or raise the right hand, or rise.

Titze admits that a voice vote may be the only practical approach for such a huge venue as the convention. He is a bit more charitable than most of us who watched the convention. He said that he thought Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa looked confused while many felt he looked uncomfortable that the rank and file was not doing what they were told and looked at the DNC officials for what to do. It is important to note that the measure had to pass by two-thirds so if it was close, it should never have passed. In other words, it would not have seemed close. Villaraigosa later dismissed the outcry as “much to do about nothing.”

Another quibble with the study is that he used only women and no men in his 70 person study.

Nevertheless, he found that five people with their eyes closed could not determine a majority from the voice vote. THe louder voices carried greater weight and skewed the results. The percentage had to get up to 60-40 before the judges could accurately determine a winner. However, the two-thirds vote needed in the convention would have to have been that overwhelming. Accordingly, I am not sure that this study helps the DNC’s defense of its actions at the convention.

The idea that louder votes are weighty heavier in a voice vote may not strike many as overwhelming news. However, the study does confirm the questionable value of large voice votes on such issues.

8 thoughts on “Ayes and Nayes [and Neverminds]: Iowa Study Questions Value Of Voice Votes

  1. With electronic devices readily at hand, it seems implausible that ancient Roman techniques that are obviously imperfectly adapted for contemporary “voice” recognition tabulations and head counting (after all this time)…is still the order of the day. This is stupidity not simply bad leadership, and one can only wonder why stupidity is the preferable methodology for political leadership practices. But I can guess!

  2. I think the real issue here is, as stated in the article, the leadership is not concerned with input from their members. They had already settled on a course of action. It seems the country as a whole has changed from honoring a process that has served us pretty darned well, to just using it whenever it doesn’t interfere with a leaderships’ goals. Electronic device information can be manipulated in the same way. If there is no plan to adhere to the process, there is no solution.

  3. One would think matters of this importance would be by a standard ballot. But then again it might be inconvenient the ballot is more exacting.

  4. One of the first conventions I went to with my folks when I was a teen I saw this in action. I have seen it done many times, including by the national conventions of both parties on TV.

    It goes like this usually:
    All in favor say AYE!
    All opposedmotioncarrys

    That is democracy in action!

  5. This may be a little off-topic but I have to wonder why it has become commonplace today to blame both parties for something one party does.

    For example, the above piece reports that, “The leadership just declared the vote as having passed by two-thirds acclamation. It was an embarrassing but telling moment for those who view [and here the report turns to commentary] the two parties as controlled by a small elite group of self-serving power brokers.”

    This appalling example was displayed by the Democratic party ONLY. It would seem that if we are to assign such tactics to both parties it would be proper and fair to provide an example of an equally shameless move by Republicans.

    I realize the intent is often to “soften” the accusation or to try to appear unbiased but blame-sharing both exonerates the guilty party while defaming the uninvolved third party. How is that either fair or effective in determining and pointing out moral failures so they can be publicly recognized and, hopefully, remedied?.

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