Can representatives change their vote?

A visitor to this site asked me:

Q:

How can I find out what a particular representative voted upon and then went back to change his/her vote? I understand that this is done very often so that the hometown folks think that he/she voted one way, but that they go back and change the actual vote recorded later.

Was it really true that Members of Congress can change their votes?

As it turns out, actual votes cannot be changed after the fact, though that may not be the whole story. To find this out, I asked my expert colleagues. The first answer I got came from a very knowledgeable Congressional staffer who wrote:

A1:

There are times when members miss a vote, and come to the floor and say, had I been here, I would have voted yay/ney and that is inserted into the Congressional Record, but that commentary is not inserted into the Clerk’s official tally nor is it considered to be a “vote.” There are also times when a Rep votes one way and goes to the floor and also says, “oops, I meant to vote the other way” but again, that is just in the Congressional Record, and not reflected in the official vote record/tally. [Neither the official House website nor GovTrack would take into account these statements.]

Former staffer Chris Kinnan clarified:

A2:

They can change votes during the 15 minute voting period (and some do nearly every vote, they watch to see howtheir state colleagues are voting or they get arm-twisted) but once the vote is closed that’s the official record and its not changed.

And lastly former staffer Daniel Bennett noted that interpreting votes can sometimes be impossible:

Looking at the raw roll call votes with no context means almost nothing.

Bills can and often do include “killer” sections that mean that a representative must vote for the whole bill or risk appearing to be against how the bill is described. The Republicans were able to set up many votes in Congress to get the Democrats to appear to be voting against “supporting” the troops by including pieces that were disdainful to the Democrats and which might even not make it to the final vote. Oh yes, legislation is often passed in slightly different forms in the Senate and the House, and that sets up the possibility of having a vote on a House version that will be different from the version that makes it through the conference committee. And I haven’t even gotten to the naming of bills or early committee votes.

So the short answer is no, but the long answer is it’s hard to ever know what a vote is about in the first place!

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