Today’s question comes from Erika M:
I see yea, nay, no, aye as the way congressmen voted. What does aye mean?
Ah parliamentary procedure. There’s no meaningful difference between Yea and Aye, and Nay and No. They both mean “I vote in favor” or “I vote against”. The difference is just a matter of procedure. The Constitution actually requires “Yea” and “Nay” for votes on the passage of bills (Article I Section 7), and so the House and Senate both do that for those particular votes.
In fact, the Senate uses Yea and Nay for all votes. Good for them for keeping things simple. It’s another story for the House.
There are two peculiarities of the House that make the answer to the question not so simple. First, they use Aye and No for all voice votes, where congressmen just shout out their vote and the chair judges who won just by listening. (Anyone can subsequently demand that the votes be recorded individually, in which case a recorded vote is used. In the Senate, voice votes use Yea and Nay.)
The second peculiarity of the House is that it operates in two modes of procedure, and that determines which kind of vote is used for recorded votes not on the passage of bills (because those are always Yea and Nay). These final types of votes could be for amendments, motions, etc. The first mode is normal House floor debate, which uses Yea and Nay for recorded votes, so you will see Aye and No for voice votes but Yea and Nay for recorded votes. Yea and Nay are reserved for this mode of debate only. The second mode is when the House operates as if it were a committee made up of everyone, called “The Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union,” and in this mode Aye and No are used for recorded votes as well as voice votes.
Some more details are in House Rules, if you want to pour through the details. It’s in Rules of the House, Rule XX, and House Practice in the section Voting.