Of class war and urban babies

The technology of “ghost voting”

“Ghost voting” is a familiar trick by lawmakers in many states: You figure out some way to vote “yea” or “nay” even if you’re not physically in session. Some lawmakers will have their seatmate push their yes/no button when a vote is called. But in other cases, lawmakers use Rube-Goldberg-like hacks so cunning that I’d be tempted to call them “neato” — if they weren’t, y’know, making a total mockery of the entire concept of democracy.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a great story on the tricks that Pennsylvanian legislators use:

On the day Gov. Rendell unveiled his budget to a packed House chamber, Rep. William Rieger voted in favor of all six bills that came up.

But Rieger wasn’t there. The Democrat was home on Feb. 3, 100 miles away in Philadelphia.

A wad of paper shoved into his electronic “yea” button atop his desk did the work for him.

Apparently, these guys will use pennies, paper clips, and pen caps — anything that’ll hold the button down. Does it matter? Since most legislation is passed by majority votes, has a single ghost vote ever brought a law into being? Yep:

One of the most infamous cases came during the controversial 1991 budget vote. A paper clip stuck in former Rep. Richard Hayden’s “yea” button accounted for the deciding vote, which led to higher taxes. Hayden, a Democrat from Roxborough, was en route to the airport to start a Hawaiian vacation at the time.

(Thanks to Fark for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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