Last week, this news outlet published our first installment in the curious case of South Carolina state representative Kevin Hardee and his estranged wife, Kim Hardee. Several chapters in this drama have yet to be written, but our first treatment of this cacophonous breakup was the proverbial doozy.
In case you missed it, Kim Hardee alleged – on the record – that she had cast potentially “hundreds” of votes on her husband’s behalf over the years while he was not on the floor of the S.C. House of Representatives. She also alleged that two of her husband’s colleagues – state representative Mike Ryhal of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and state representative Will Wheeler of Bishopville, S.C. – had cast votes for hm as well, and that Ryhal also “used to mark him present when he wasn’t even there.”
As we dug into these allegations – several of which were corroborated by a pair of state lawmakers who spoke with us on condition of anonymity – we soon discovered that state lawmakers voting on behalf of their colleagues is a routine occurrence in the S.C. House.
“Probably one of every four (votes),” one lawmaker told us when we asked them to guess the percentage of votes cast by someone other than the elected official entitled to cast them.
In other words, up to a quarter of the voting in the House is illegitimate, if this legislator is to be believed.
Can that be correct? We think such an estimate is probably an exaggeration, however it is worth pointing out that every single lawmaker we spoke with about this issue acknowledged either casting a vote on a colleague’s behalf or instructing a colleague to vote for them at one point or another during their legislative careers.
So it is indeed a commonplace occurrence.
Is this a big deal? It should be …
Elected officials need to be accountable to the people who put them in office. And while that generally boils down to the outcomes of the votes they cast (ahem), they also need to be accountable for the votes themselves.
Meaning they need to be the ones actually casting them …
As we noted in our coverage of the Hardee saga, House members’ votes are recorded by individualized electronic key cards, which can be inserted at multiple “portal” locations within the House chamber.
Lawmakers carry these key cards around with them and can cast votes from any portal in the chamber using them.
“The individualized cards will work at any member’s desk but the vote is ascribed only to that particular member,” one lawmaker explained. “Without the card in the portal the button does not work.”
We also noted that “it is common practice for lawmakers to leave these cards in their portals when they are not in the chamber – allowing their desk mates (or others) to cast votes for them.”
Because such conduct is governed by the rules of the House (and not by the state’s code of laws) there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of accountability over the practice.
That needs to change …
What sort of reform do we suggest? Well, thumbprints and facial recognition are two forms of individualized authentication currently used to unlock mobile devices … maybe it is time the S.C. House employed this sort of technology for its voting portals?
Clearly trusting lawmakers to act with integrity is not getting the job done ….
WANNA SOUND OFF?
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