House Voting Procedures: Forms and Requirements
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Voting is among the most public acts of Representatives. Generally, Members try not to miss a
vote, because it is an important demonstration to their constituents that they are always on the job.
Procedural considerations suffuse voting, and thus it is important to understand the methods of
voting in both the House and in the Committee of the Whole, where much of the chamber’s
business is conducted.
There are four ways for lawmakers to obtain a vote in the House. They are voice votes, division
votes, yea and nay votes, and recorded votes.
This means that lawmakers call out “yea” or “nay” when a question is first put by the Speaker or
Speaker pro tempore. As Rule I, clause 6, states, the Speaker will first say, “Those in favor (of the
question), say ‘Aye’.” Then the Speaker will ask: “Those opposed, say ‘No’.” A voice vote can be
quick and easy, but it is sometimes difficult for the Speaker to determine—based on the volume
of each response—whether more lawmakers shouted “aye” compared to those who shouted “no.”
Rule XX, clause 1(a), states that if the Speaker is uncertain about the outcome of a voice vote, or
if a Member demands a division, the House shall divide. “Those in favor of the question shall
first rise from their seats to be counted,” and then those who are opposed to the proposition shall
stand to be counted. This procedure is reasonably accurate and takes only a few minutes, but it
does not provide a public record of how each Member voted. Only vote totals (95 for, 65 against,
for instance) are announced in this seldom-employed method of voting.
The Constitution (Article I, Section 5) declares that “the Yeas and Nays of the Members ... on any
question” shall be obtained “at the Desire of one fifth of those present.” Under this provision, it
does not matter if a quorum of the House (218 Members) is not present to conduct business—
which the Constitution requires—because any Member can say, “Mr. Speaker, on that vote, I
demand the yeas and nays.” If the demand is supported by one-fifth of those present, the Speaker
will say “the yeas and nays” are ordered.
There is also an “automatic” yea and nay (or rollcall) vote provided in House Rule XX, clause 6.
For example, if it is evident to a lawmaker that a quorum is not present in the chamber, he or she
may object to a vote on that ground and, “automatically,” a vote will be ordered by the chair. To
request an automatic vote, a Member says, “I object to the vote on the ground that a quorum is
not present, and I make a point of order that a quorum is not present.” The actual vote will then
simultaneously determine both issues: the presence of a quorum and the vote on the pending
question. Clause 10 of Rule XX also states that the “yeas and nays shall be considered as
ordered” on final passage of a limited number of measures or matters, such as concurrent budget
resolutions. The Constitution requires that votes to override presidential vetoes shall be
determined by the yeas and nays.
Under Rule XX, clause 1(b), if any Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner “requests a
recorded vote, and that request is supported by at least one-fifth of a quorum, such vote shall be
taken by electronic device.” (Yea and nay and recorded votes are all taken by electronic device—
employed since 1973—unless the computerized voting system malfunctions; then standby
procedures outlined in Rule XX, clause 2(b), are used to conduct the votes.) To obtain a recorded
vote, a Member states, “Mr. Speaker, on that I demand a recorded vote.” If at least one-fifth of a
quorum of 218—or 44 members—stand and support the request, then the recorded vote will be
taken by electronic device. Recall that the distinction between recorded votes and the yeas and
nays goes to the number of Members required to support each request: one-fifth of those present
for the yeas and nays and one-fifth of a quorum (44 of 218) for recorded votes.
Three methods of voting are available in the Committee of the Whole: voice, division, and
recorded. Yea and nay votes are not permitted in the committee, either the constitutional or
“automatic” forms. In short, there is only one way to obtain a recorded vote in the committee—
where a quorum is 100 Members—and it is outlined in Rule XVIII, clause 6(e). This rule of the
House states: the “Chairman shall order a recorded vote on a request supported by at least 25
Members.” Thus, any Member may say, “I request a recorded vote,” and, if 25 lawmakers (the
Member who made the request can be part of the tally, too) rise to be counted by the chair, the
recorded vote will occur by electronic device. Alternatively, a lawmaker who plans to request a
recorded vote even though few Members are present in the chamber will usually say, “Mr.
Chairman, I request a recorded vote and, pending that, I make a point of order that a quorum is
not present.” Once the chair ascertains that a quorum is not present, there is an immediate quorum
call and the Member who requested the recorded vote can ask 24 other colleagues to support his
request as they come onto the floor.
Under Rule XX, clause 2(a), the minimum time for a record vote by electronic device is 15
minutes in either the House or the Committee of the Whole. The 15-minute period is the
minimum, rather than the maximum, time allowed for the conduct of a recorded vote. The chair th
has the discretion to hold the vote open longer. A new 110 rule states that votes are not to be held
open for the sole purpose of reversing the outcome of a vote. However, this rule seems difficult to
interpret in practice. There are also occasions in the House (see Rule XX, clause 9) when the
Speaker has the discretion to reduce the voting time to not less than five minutes. The Speaker
also has the authority under Rule XX, clause 8, to postpone and cluster certain votes. Votes in the
Committee of the Whole may also be reduced to five minutes, as noted in Rule XVIII, clause 6(f).
Walter J. Oleszek
Senior Specialist in American National Government