In the United States Congress, a recorded vote is a vote in which the names of those voting for and against a motion may be recorded.
Questions may be decided by voice vote, but the voice vote does not allow one to determine at a later date which members voted for and against the motion. Upon the demand of any member, a division may be held; the members supporting and opposing the motion stand successively and are counted. However, even in the rarely used division procedure, the names of the individuals voting on each side are not officially recorded. A recorded vote, under the Constitution, may be obtained upon the demand of one-fifth of the members present. Other methods may be provided by Rules of the Houses.
In the Senate, there is only one way to obtain a recorded vote, known as the "Yeas and Nays." One-fifth of the Senators present, assuming that a quorum (a majority of Senators) is present, must demand the Yeas and Nays. Given a Senate with no vacancies, there are one-hundred Senators, rendering the quorum equal to fifty-one Senators. One-fifth of the quorum, or eleven Senators, is required to demand the Yeas and Nays.
If the Yeas and Nays are demanded, then a Senate Clerk proceeds to call the Roll of Senators in alphabetical order. Senators are technically required to vote from their seats, responding "Aye" or "No" upon the call of their names. In practice, however, Senators vote at the rostrum, sometimes by giving a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" signal. The Senators vote from their desks only at the most formal times.
After the Clerk repeats the Roll Call, he waits at the rostrum for further Senators to vote. The vote remains open for at least fifteen minutes, but is normally kept open for up to thirty minutes, and sometimes for longer.
House of Representatives
The House of Representatives provides rules that are much more complicated than those of the Senate. There are four ways in which a recorded vote may be demanded, and three ways in which it may be taken.
Firstly, the Yeas and Nays may be demanded in the same way as in the Senate, by one-fifth of those present (but a quorum is not assumed present.) Secondly, a recorded vote may be demanded by forty-four members, or one-fifth of the quorum. Finally, some recorded votes are automatically held:
- when a member makes a point of order that a quorum is not present
- when the House is voting on:
- a general appropriations bill
- a bill seeking to raise taxes
- the annual budget resolution.
However, when the House is meeting in the Committee of the Whole (a Committee consisting of every member of the House, meeting to consider a bill in detail), a recorded vote may be held only by the demand of twenty-five members, and for no other reason.
Regardless of how the House arrives at a recorded vote, it is taken in one of three ways. Firstly, the Speaker may ask the Clerk to call the Roll of members, as in the Senate. However, this procedure is reserved for formal votes, considering the amount of time consumed by calling over four-hundred names.
Secondly, the House may hold a teller vote, in which each member signs a green card for "Aye," a red card for "No," and an orange card for "Present" (an abstention,) and hands it to a Clerk, who counts the votes.
Finally, the House may vote by electronic device. Members vote by inserting a plastic voting card, which doubles as a photo ID, into terminals located on the backs of seats in the House chamber. The member presses a red button to vote "No, "a green button to vote "Aye," and a yellow button to vote "Present." Members' names are displayed on a blue, backlit panel above the Speaker's chair, and when a member votes, a red, green, or yellow light appears adjacent to his or her name. Displays on the side walls of the chamber display a running vote total.
The recorded vote remains open for fifteen minutes, after which Members may vote in the same manner as in a teller vote, i.e. by signing a card and handing it to the Clerk, or by announcing their votes to the Clerk, but not by electronic device, until the Speaker announces the result. Some times, an important vote will be held open by the occupant of the Chair, a member of the majority party, for much longer, so that party leaders can have time to convince members to change their votes. The longest ever recorded vote was held in the early hours of November 22, 2003, when the Republican Party held a vote on a Medicare bill open for approximately three hours, during which the President himself worked to convince two Republicans who had voted "No" to change their votes to "Aye."