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Voting by Electronic Device — in the Senate?

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

May the days of the Senate clerks calling the roll be coming to an end?

Senate floor watchers have heard the regular reading of the names of senators during roll call votes, for many years leading off with “Mr. Akaka,” until the retirement of Hawaii Democrat Daniel K. Akaka at the end of the last Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., now holds the distinction.

Back in January, one of the Senate clerks actually kicked off a quorum call with Akaka’s name, even though his term had ended.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that he was open to a bit of increased efficiency, potentially replacing the manual calling of the roll with electronic voting devices like the system used in the House since 1973, which involves cards and push buttons.

“Maybe someday we could set up a system similar to what they have in the House,” Reid told the editorial board of the Las Vegas Sun. “I wouldn’t be opposed to that.”

Reid added that he did not really expect a technological revolution, however.

“At this stage, I don’t see it changing in the near future,” he said.

Such a move, however unlikely, would make it possible for the Senate to move through roll call votes much more quickly. During long sequences of votes, such as during the “vote-a-rama” that comes along with flood debate on a budget resolution, each vote usually takes 10 minutes or more. The House, which has has 435 members as compared to the Senate’s 100, can churn through two-minute votes when considering lots of amendments.

Making votes move more quickly increases the chances that lawmakers will cast votes in error, however. Senators already seek and receive unanimous consent on a somewhat regular basis to change votes after-the-fact, when it will not change the outcome.

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