Yes. But, finding them is not so simple. Finding your legislator’s voting record, and understanding it, can be very difficult and time-consuming. Read further for more.
(Quick aside: Don’t see your legislator on this site? Your legislator probably retired, passed away, or moved up or out. Check out our website for archived scorecards: https://www.progressivemass.com/scorecards_and_roll_calls.)
Only those votes that have had a recorded vote (“roll call”).
No, most Beacon Hill legislation is passed by voice vote. Although you can find out whether an amendment or bill passed or failed by looking at the page for the bill in question, there is no paper trail telling you how your specific legislator voted when it’s a voice vote.
Some votes, however, are ROLL CALLED, which means there is a record of each legislator’s Yea or Nay (or abstention or absence).
Roll calls are only taken when a legislator requests it -- which can be discouraged by the culture of the chamber -- and that request is supported by other members. Reasons for a roll call can include the following:
You’ve got to know a lot of information first well before you can find out “how did my legislator vote on healthcare (or other) issues?”
To find a Senate roll call, you can search for the specific bill (by topic or number) and obtain links to the recorded votes on the bill’s page, or you can search the journal for the day of the vote.
To find a House roll call, you need to obtain the number of the roll call vote first. You can do that by either searching for the bill or by reading the day’s journal. Once you have the number, you can directly search for the roll call here.
To even begin, you need either a bill number of a date (sometimes, but not always, a keyword search will work), something most people will not have immediately on hand.
MOST legislation does not get a vote, whether voice or roll call. And, importantly, decisions about what makes it to the floor are among the most important in establishing the Agenda of the chamber for that session.
What makes it to the floor is largely a reflection of the will of Leadership in the respective Chambers (House and Senate). Leadership includes, in the House, the very powerful Speaker of the House and the Chairs of committees. In the Senate, it is the Senate President.
So, it’s quite possible that excellent progressive policy gets stalled in committees.
Given the importance of the decisions made in committee, a savvy voter might ask, “How can I find out how my Legislators voted within the committee?” However, recorded votes are rare in committee as well, and the Legislature is exempt from public records law.
Understanding the distinction between votes on amendments and votes on a final bill is important in assessing Beacon Hill members’ records.
A bill goes into committee at the beginning of the session, and either it is trapped there to die until the next session (where it might be reintroduced -- or not), or it is released -- with changes to its content according to the wisdoms of the committee. A bill rarely will reach the floor in the original form in which it was introduced.
Given that the outcome of a bill is largely determined well before it reaches the floor, adding amendments to a bill that does make it to the floor is one way to affect what policy gets passed.
This is why, in a context where (we argue) generally more conservative legislation is favored by the Legislature, amendments are an important avenue for making a bill more progressive -- or beating back efforts to make it less so -- and, therefore, sites from which to take the measure of legislators’ stances when push comes to shove on a bill’s progressive (or not) pivot point.
Unfortunately, the tracking of amendments, and retention of the context in which they are introduced during a debate, requires an investment into the minutiae of legislation that is not realistic for even a savvy and plugged-in citizen.
Beyond that, we abide by a few general rules:
For every roll call we include in our scorecard, we articulate the “progressive position.” On our tally, a “plus” sign means the elected official voted with the progressive position. A “minus” sign means they voted against the progressive position.
On the Scorecard WebApp, the progressive position is coded “blue”; a vote coded red means a vote against the progressive position.
Since showing up is an essential part of legislators’ jobs, “NV” is treated the same as a vote against the progressive position. An “NVP” is as well. In both cases, a legislator could have voted the progressive way but did not.
190th session update: If legislators were not present for a vote but submitted a letter to the Clerk about how they would have voted, we recorded the intended vote in the scorecard. Relevant references here are available upon request.
A legislator’s job is to vote. That’s simple. We want them (and are paying them) to show up and take votes on important issues.
But we also understand that there can be extenuating circumstances. That’s why our scorecard takes into account letters that legislators send to the Clerk about their intention when they miss a vote. We want to give credit where credit is due -- and demerit where demerit is due. There are exceptions to this, though: if a legislator would have been a deciding vote one way or another, it isn’t right to count an after-the-fact intention since we don’t really know how they would have voted in the moment. As a general rule, though, the more data points, the better.
As they do with letter grades, an A means excellent, a B means good, a C means average, a D means poor, and an F, well, you get the point.
It’s important to understand these scores from two perspectives: (1) how a legislator is doing compared to how we want them to be doing and (2) how a legislator is doing compared to his/her colleagues. A good scorecard is one that tells a story.
That being said, EVERY legislator can be doing better. And part of doing better is providing more recorded votes that truly capture the story of each chamber. We are only scoring the votes that are taken, and there are many bills and amendments that never receive the votes they deserve. A scorecard can't account for what goes on behind the scenes and how legislators championed or fought bills or amendments before they came to that vote.
But recorded votes matter. They are how legislators provide receipts of their professed principles, and scorecards provide engaged citizens with an understanding of what's happening at the Legislature--and how they (YOU) can change it.
Want more texture? Check out blogs like Blue Mass Group, your local news sites, and the #mapoli hashtag.
Think back to school. If you were in the same class and took the same test, then your grades would be directly comparable to those of your classmates. You faced the same questions. If another class had a different test (but on a lot of the same material), your grade may not be directly comparable. If you excelled on one, you'd likely excel on the other. If you totally flunked one, you'd probably flunk the other. And the rank ordering would likely hold up pretty well. When it comes to comparing votes across chambers, those basic principles still apply.
Many legislators that champion progressive policies have average scores in the House, and that’s because of a power dynamic in that chamber: the tendency of state representatives, whatever their ideology, to vote in lockstep with the Speaker. This is the result of an overly centralized structure, an authoritarian leadership style, and a broken culture.
Moreover, there are not enough recorded votes. We would love the opportunity to give higher scores to more legislators, but we need the data points to do so. That means legislators have to start standing up for votes.
A scorecard is one collection of data points. There is a lot that goes on in bringing a vote to the floor and shaping what a final bill looks like. If you want to know what your legislators are doing on that front, it’s always good to ask for receipts.
In the MA House of Representatives, the Speaker is very powerful, and his (or her) agenda largely determines what policies are passed. Whether it is a good system or not is debatable (when the Speaker is progressive, it means progressive legislation will pass. When the Speaker is not, it means progressive legislation is likely to be watered down significantly).
But it’s important to understand that individual Legislators in the House (the Democrats, at least) have very much bought into this system, and generally vote accordingly. They are not obligated to, however.
Because members tend to follow the Speaker, knowing how they vary from -- or vote in lockstep with -- the Speaker helps you to parse your legislator’s positions.
You should ask her/him questions. Why is their vote record so similar to his (if it is)? Is your district more conservative than not? Is it more liberal than Winthrop? Keep asking questions, listen to the answers; share them with us!
Because members can retire, resign, take a different elected or unelected office, or (RIP) pass away during the legislative session, there will inevitably be special elections.
Legislators who win a special election occurring late in the session will not have voted on all of the same bills as their new peers.
If a legislator was not present for at least half of the votes we scored, chose not to score them. (See more on legislators missing votes we score, elsewhere on the FAQ)
The Senate President participates in some votes but not others, despite always being present.
If a senator or representative was absent for a majority of the votes taken, we would choose not to score them. An example from the 190th session is Rep. Jen Benson of Lunenburg, who was at the Bonn Climate Conference during the Criminal Justice Reform bill votes.
This indicates that a legislator was not present (either NV or n/a) for anywhere between 10 and 50% of the scored votes.
In some cases, this refers to a legislator who was elected mid-term. We felt we had enough votes on which to base a score but acknowledged that a score for part of the session is not directly comparable to one for the full session.
In other cases, this refers to a legislator who was absent for a several of the votes we chose to score. Since absences count against legislators, this could debase their score relative to what it would have been otherwise.
Theoretically, yes. However, that would take a lot of work. It’s certainly an aspiration!
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