Understanding Voice Votes

Observers of proceedings in the Colorado House and Senate chambers will routinely witness members voting by voice on various motions. When conducting voice votes, the presiding officer will direct those in favor of a motion to say “Aye” or “Yes” and for those opposed to say “No”. The presiding officer will then announce the result of that voice vote.

A common misconception often leads people to be frustrated with voice votes. Their objections tend to focus on which side of a voice vote was louder. Such objections generally focus on a firm belief that the presiding officer ruled incorrectly by siding with those who were not the loudest.

While common and understandable, such frustration serves no purpose. Why? Because the outcome of voice votes in the Colorado General Assembly is not based on volume.

The prevailing side of a voice vote conducted in the Colorado General Assembly is based on the number of people who respond “Yes” or “No”, not volume. A majority of members who whisper are greater in number than a minority of members who shout. The number of members is the only thing that matters, not the volume.

How does the presiding officer know which side has more people voting for or against a motion? The first determining factor would be the perspective shared by members of the Majority caucus. If members of the Majority are aligned on the question, then they win because there are more of them.

In both chambers of our state legislature, it is possible for any member to call for a “Division” prior to a Second Reading voice vote. A division vote requires members to stand and be counted for or against a motion. There is also opportunity to have a recorded vote on each matter during the consideration of the Report of the Committee of the Whole, which occurs at the end of Second Reading debate. A “COW Amendment” proposes to reverse some action taken during Second Reading and a recorded vote occurs for each such amendment.

Why are those options not used at every opportunity? Because it can be obvious to members in a chamber when the Majority is aligned on a given matter. For members of the Minority, it isn’t always productive or helpful to prove that they lost.

It can also be helpful to consider that voice votes conducted during Second Reading debate aren’t the final votes on any bill that becomes law. Such final votes can only occur during Third Reading, which must occur at least one day after Second Reading is completed. Third Reading votes determine whether a measure passes through that chamber and those votes must be recorded.

To review the recorded Third Reading votes for a bill, visit the “View All Bills” page at the Colorado General Assembly website, then select from the menu fields the criteria (House of Origin, Measure Type, etc.) for that bill. When you see the bill that is of interest to you in the display list, click on the blue title of that bill to proceed to the bill page for that bill.

Once you arrive at that specific bill page, scroll to the Status menu, and click the “Votes” tab to see the recorded House and/or Senate Third Reading votes. Please note that the “Votes” tab won’t be available for a bill until at least one chamber has conducted a Third Reading vote on that bill.

To view votes taken in a committee, click on the “Committees” tab in the Status menu, then click on the hearing date/committee name of interest to you. Each motion that was voted on during that committee hearing will be listed along with the result and a link to a Vote Summary for each motion.

** The information provided herein is intended for general educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature, please consult with an attorney.

** Civics Corner content was written with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.

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