Kudos to the Associated Press for shining light on a longstanding rule in the state Assembly that allows some lawmakers to change their votes after the fact — sometimes repeatedly.
It's a contemptible practice, one that allows legislators to avoid taking clear positions and, thus, hiding their true votes from constituents. Worse, it casts doubt on all legislative votes, leaving one to question what is real and what is fiction about voting records.
Under this rule, all 80 members of the Assembly are allowed to change or add votes as long as it does not alter whether the bill passed or failed. The state Senate allows such changes to be made only by its Democratic and Republican leaders.
The Associated Press analysis shows that in this year's legislative session alone, state Assembly members made 5,012 vote changes or additions to the record.
Three North Coast lawmakers were included in on the list: Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, a candidate in the 2nd Congressional district; Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, a candidate in the 10th Assembly District, and Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, a candidate in the 2nd Assembly District.
Allen changed or added his vote 12 times, including switching his vote from yes to not voting on a bill that called for raising a $250,000 cap on pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases. The bill failed.
Chesbro added or altered his vote 26 times including changing his vote from yes to no on a controversial bill that would have allowed media greater access to prisoners. The bill passed but was vetoed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Huffman, meanwhile, did not change any of his votes. But he was second among all Bay Area legislators in having the most voting additions with 144.
As Staff Writer Derek Moore reported, Huffman says the add-ons were a reflection of his busy legislative schedule. "I was not playing politics," he said.
Maybe not. But it's evident that politics is often the key motivation.
The AP analysis showed some interesting trends. For example, lawmakers running for a new seat this fall were more likely than any other Assembly member to use the vote-switching practice. Associated Press reporters found that of the top 15 vote-changers this year, 11 were seeking a new office outside of the Assembly.
Lawmakers also were more likely to change their votes on bills that involved powerful lobbies such as law enforcement or education. Bills involving divisive social issues also were more likely to see vote changing.
This is not a bipartisan problem. In fact, Assembly Republicans changed their votes at more than twice the rate as Democrats, according to the Associated Press.
We recognize that there should be some allowance for lawmakers to add their vote if, for legitimate reasons, they cannot be present when a floor vote is called. But there is no credible reason — beyond deliberate obfuscation — for changing one's vote after the fact. It's no less ludicrous to allow a lawmaker to nullify a vote in favor of perpetuating a fiction that he or she did not take a position when the vote was taken.
Legislators, let your "ayes" be "ayes," and vote yes on terminating this silly game of hide and go seek with voting records.