Summer Renovations Yield New House Voting System

While chamber was away, new voting infrastructure went up

New voting machines and voting cards debuted in the House this week. Former Speaker John A. Boehner holds his old one up a few years ago. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House lawmakers had new hardware to try out Tuesday night — new voting cards and voting machines.

Over the August recess the Office of the House Clerk installed new voting machines in the House chamber for tallying roll call votes. Members descended on the Speaker’s Lobby  to pick up their new cards. 

The cards feature a photo of the lawmaker, a reflective hologram, watermarks and an illustration of the Capitol. The drawing is specially so that members don’t get the new cards confused with the old ones, which won’t work in the new machines. The back of the card has a large House of Representatives seal.

“There’s lot of watermarks on the new cards,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.“They look fancy,” she said.

Members were showing off their new wares to reporters and their colleagues, comparing photos and making jokes about how flattering (or unflattering) the headshots on their cards are.

“This is not from my modeling days, obviously” one member was overheard saying in the Speaker’s Lobby.

The old voting boxes were more than 20 years old and were custom technology created especially for the House. The new machines include technology that is commercially available. House Clerk Karen L. Haas told appropriators back in April that one benefit of the new machines is that they will be easier to maintain.

“We’ll be able to support the systems ourselves,” Haas told the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.

The changes have been underway for years. In 2016 new cabling for the voting system was installed under the floor of the House chamber. The voting boxes were first slated for installation in 2017, but testing and prototyping pushed action to 2018. 

Haas said in April that the Clerk’s office would be “aggressively communicating to member offices” over the August break about the changes. But on Tuesday night, lawmakers didn’t know much beyond that they needed new cards.

The new voting setup includes two additional boxes on each side of the chamber. Republican and Democratic leadership had input on where the additional voting boxes should be situated. It is unclear if having more places to vote will speed up the process. Votes slated for 10 or 15 minutes often drag out to twice that long.

“They worked great,” Wasserman Schultz said exiting the first vote series using the new cards and machines.

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