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Violating Rule 76

Why Wisconsin’s Assembly Vote Was Illegal

by ERIC JOHNSON-DeBAUFRE

Early Friday morning, the Republican leadership of Wisconsin’s state assembly rushed through Governor Walker’s bill that would strip most unionized state employees of their ability to engage in collective bargaining. As is by now familiar, the vote opened and closed in a matter of seconds, leaving 28 members of the assembly uncounted in the vote, which passed by a 51 to 17 margin (all 51 in favor, it should be noted, were Republicans).

Progressive media outlets—who, to their credit, have expressed outrage at the underhanded tactics employed by the Republican majority—are already touting this as a victory for Walker. But this concession seems premature as a close inspection of the Wisconsin assembly rules suggests that the vote was illegal.

According to Assembly Rule 76 (6), “During a roll call vote, any member may raise the point of order that a member appears to be absent from the chamber but is shown as voting according to the roll call display boards. If the presiding officer rules the point of order ‘well taken’, the vote of the absent member may not be recorded.”1

The clear intent of the rule is to prevent error or fraud from occurring in votes taken in the state assembly. But exercise and enforcement of the rule also clearly requires that there be sufficient time during a vote for assembly members to register whether or not there is a discrepancy between votes recorded and the members physically present on the floor.

Opening and closing a vote within seconds clearly violates the intent for which Rule 76 (6) was designed and adopted. Wisconsin Democrats thus have good ground for throwing out last night’s vote.

ERIC JOHNSON-DeBAUFRE is a visiting lecturer at Boston University and an occasional contributor to CounterPunch.

Assembly Rule 76. Voting. http://nxt.legis.state.wi.us/nxt/gateway.dll/?f=templates$fn=default.htm