ANNAPOLIS – Marylanders may be able to access complete voting records of the state’s General Assembly on the Internet during the 1998 session.
The Joint Advisory Committee on Legislative Data Systems Wednesday unanimously recommended the Internet voting access plan for approval by the Legislative Policy Committee, the final group to sign off on the measure.
Advisory Committee Co-Chairman Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, D- Baltimore County, said that posting the voting records online will make records more accessible, especially to voters who live far from the state capital.
The plan “gives voters easier and faster access to the work of the general assembly,” he said. “I won’t say it will be an immense amount [of access], but it will increase the number of citizens who know the outcome of voting.”
Under the committee’s recommendation, all roll-call votes (votes which require a head-count rather than simply a “yea” or “nay”) for bills and amendments will be posted on the General Assembly Web site within two or three days of the actual count. The site also will list the names of members by vote, and link those names to biographical and contact information for each member.
Previously, the Web site only offered descriptions of upcoming bills and amendments and voting calendars.
The addition of the roll-call information will not generate any substantial expenses for the state government, said Bob Edwards, director of the Maryland Office of Information Systems. The state will use existing staff and equipment for programming and updating the system, he explained.
Delegate John S. Morgan, R-Prince George’s, said the most important goal of the voting record automation is to increase accountability for legislators’ decisions and to shed more light on the democratic process in Maryland.
“We’re really trying to open up our halls here,” he said. “We want to show the public what we’re doing and how we’re voting.”
The committee also recommended posting quorum votes and votes to confirm executive nominations. A quorum vote is taken at the beginning and end of the voting period to determine whether there are enough legislators present to merit a vote.
Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, R-Montgomery, was the only member to vote against the inclusion of the quorum call online. Hogan said some system users may be upset when they don’t see their member’s name on the first call, thinking that the lawmaker was not in attendance.
In fact, Hogan argued, many members are tied up in committee hearings and other meetings, and get to the floor after the quorum call.
Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, the committee’s other co-chairman, also expressed concern that votes and procedures be explained clearly and in lay terms on the Web site.
“We shouldn’t use technical terms that aren’t known by the average voter,” he said. “We tend to take them for granted.” The committee also decided to postpone discussion about posting votes on floor motions, saying such proceedings often were too complex and lengthy to be grasped by a user not familiar with the legislative process. -30-