Heard on the Hill

What’s in a vote? In the Senate, it’s in the eye, or ear, of the clerk

A look at the more common voting gestures seen on the chamber floor

In the Senate, there are a lot of ways to register your vote. The classic thumbs-up, seen here, is one way to vote no. But that is just the beginning. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)

How do I vote thee? Let me count the ways. 

Unlike the House, where the utilitarian electronic voting card does all the work, senators have so, so many ways to say “yes” or “no.”

There are no set rules, and the basic requirement is that the clerk calling the roll must simply understand what a senator is trying to communicate, whether “yes” or “no,” “aye” or “nay,” up or down. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but by and large, as long as a senator can make a clear sign, via hand gesture, voice or even a modified dab (thank you, Thom Tillis), and the clerk gets it, we’re good. 

In the simplest terms, an upward motion indicates a “yes” vote, while a downward motion indicates a “no.” (As in, the vote is going down!)

Here are a few of the more common — or at least our favorite at Heard on the Hill — versions of votes that come up on the Senate floor. 


There is the classic Thumbs-Up (or Hitchhiker) and Thumbs-Down (or Roman Colosseum for “run little, man, run”).

There’s the We’re No. 1, the index finger pointing to the sky. Its inverse doesn’t have a catchy name yet.

For the enthusiastic lawmaker, the Double-Pump, up or down, is one way to get your point across. 

Some may prefer the spoken word. A simple “aye” or “yes” or “no” or “nay” does the trick here. One subset here is when a senator slips into the third person, as in, “Sen. Snodgrass votes ‘yes.’”

The Pistol is a sort of modified Thumbs-Up, but with the index finger level, pointing at the clerk. (Is it still not polite to point? But we digress.)

The Psyche! is a favorite for the playful or drama-inducing senator, starting the hand in a more neutral position, or even starting a motion one way, say, a Thumbs-Up, before abruptly changing course and voting Thumbs-Down.

Two-tool players may use hand motions while also verbalizing their votes. 

Then there are those votes that are sui generis, and associated primarily with a single individual. 

Take the aforementioned Tillis Dab, which consists of swinging one’s arms one way in an upward motion before swinging them the opposite direction further up. (The clerk was able to discern this as an energetic “yes.”)

And then there is the favorite, at least of this HOH writer, the Mutombo-Menendez Wagging Finger No Vote. That would be Sen. Robert Menendez, wagging his index finger in the way basketball great Dikembe Mutombo would wag his finger after blocking a shot on defense, then plunging that finger down indicating, what else? NO!

What’d we miss? Let us know at HOH@rollcall.com.

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