Select Panel Approves First Report on Controversial House Vote

Posted September 27, 2007 at 3:25pm

The select committee tasked with investigating an August voting snafu in the House issued its first report on the incident Thursday, using the document to outline the steps ahead in its investigation rather that offering any determinations in the partisan dispute.

“It does not draw any conclusions,” said Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), chairman of the Committee on Roll Call Vote No. 814. The evenly divided six-member panel approved the report on a unanimous voice vote.

“This conflict between parties, men and machine must be thoroughly investigated. … We will expose the truth of what happened,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the panel’s ranking member. He later added: “This report lays a solid foundation for us to begin our work.”

Delahunt credited the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service for its work on the document, which will be printed in Friday’s edition of the Congressional Record.

During the committee’s Thursday meeting, members also approved internal rules and vowed to complete the public hearing portion of its work before Congress is expected to adjourn in December. The committee is required to submit a final report by mid-September 2008.

“We intend to be expeditious,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.). Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) and Republican Reps. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) and Kenny Hulshof (Mo.) also serve on the panel.

In addition to hearing from Clerk of the House Lorraine Miller who, along with several of her deputies, testified Thursday about the technical operations of her office, the committee is expected to call witnesses to discuss the traditions of the House, as well as the history of electronic voting in the chamber.

“Our work can really help to educate other Members of the House,” LaTourette said.

Officials in the Clerk’s office directly involved in the disputed vote also may be called to speak to the committee, and the committee will issue a letter to all House lawmakers inviting them to testify about information relevant to the Aug. 2 vote.

The panel also will review an inventory of 21 items preserved by the Clerk’s office for use in the investigation, ranging from audio and video tapes of the vote to paper voting cards used by some Members to alter their votes.

“I pledge to you the openness of the Office of the Clerk,” Miller told the panel. She noted that even before the creation of the committee, she instructed staff following the disputed vote to save “everything we could in order to be of help.”

But one item that will not be available to the committee is an official tally sheet for the vote — a document that is typically provided to the Speaker Pro Tem to announce the final vote count — because according to Miller, no sheet was created for the vote.

Typically, that document is created by the tally clerk only when he or she believes the vote is about to be called, Miller said.

In the meantime, the committee remains without any designated staff or a budget, but Delahunt said the panel hoped to have a formal budget request approved early next week.

Although House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had sought $1 million to fund the panel, committee members have indicated the budget is unlikely to be that large.

The investigation will focus on an Aug. 2 vote on a GOP-authored amendment to the Agriculture spending bill that would have prohibited illegal immigrants from accessing certain federally funded programs.

Republicans allege that the Democratic majority mishandled the vote, resulting in the defeat of the measure. GOP leaders assert that a tied 214-214 vote — rending a defeat — announced by Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.) was inaccurate and that the motion had in fact passed 215-213 as Republicans changed their votes.

But Democrats dispute that version of events, noting that their own Members were changing votes on the House floor, resulting in the final tally of 212-216. McNulty, the presiding officer at the time, later apologized for prematurely calling the vote.