Any legislature will have “house rules” by which it operates. Do those house rules have the force of law for US States? If, for example, a house speaker miscounts votes, is that an arrestable offence for voter fraud?

For example, Rachel Maddow has alleged that, in Michigan, the speaker of the House miscounted votes (Part 2). Assuming this allegation is accurate, would this behaviour actually be illegal?

Note: In the videos, Rachel Maddow also talks quite a lot about what the Republicans were doing with their allegedly invalid votes. I'm not asking about that in this question, only about whether miscounting votes in the House is actually an illegal act.

  • Do you have specific facts or numbers that can be investigated, confirmed or dinied; or just general accusations by a show host?
    – user4012
    Oct 1 '13 at 0:57
  • Actually, I take that back. It is a good question... but legal, not political. Reading the court opinion, they don't seem to themselves know WTF is going on as far as whether "rising vote" procedure was legal or not (or rather, refuse to say anything before state court does due to some boring jurisdictional legal issues).
    – user4012
    Oct 1 '13 at 1:02
  • 3
    ... Though this snippet from the Judges was priceless as far as your own motivation for posting the question: "Under Republican control of the House, in 2011, the Legislature passed 319 out of 323 bills with immediate effect. In 2010, it passed 345 out of 363 bills with immediate effect. Democrats have also abused the exception. Under Democratic control of the House, in 2006, the Legislature passed 664 out of 682 bills with immediate effect". The difference? Rachel Maddow didn't have any problem with the same actions when it was the party she's in the employ of doing the same thing.
    – user4012
    Oct 1 '13 at 1:04
  • ... and here's confirmation from Democrats themselves that this was indedeedy a very bipartisan practice: here and here.
    – user4012
    Oct 1 '13 at 1:42
  • The question of what they were doing is, in my mind, separate to the question of how they were going about it, @DVK.
    – TRiG
    Oct 1 '13 at 10:08
  • First of all, IMHO this question can't be answered objectively, because no court has of yet ruled on whether the practice is legal.

    State court didn't hear any arguments on the topic, since the lawsuit filed by Pontiac had a radically different set of arguments.

    Federal circuit court basically threw the issue BACK to the state saying "we wash our hands off this", in the best tradition of political actors going back to Pontius Pilate :)

  • Second of all, House people are officially claiming that no laws or rules were violated (whether they are correct or not is, again, a question that a court has NOT yet answered).

    The meat of the issue is, distilled, as follows:

    • MI state constitution allows some bills to be passed in the Legislature as "immediate effect" (I won't bother with the links or quotes - see CJR link below or lawsuit link above for details)

    • This means the bill takes effect at passage, instead of 90 days later

    • This requires 2/3ds votes (super-majority) of both houses

    • The bills were being passed by a so-called "rising vote" voting (basically, the speaker guesses how many people voted "yay" and that's all she wrote), as opposed to roll call where every member's vote is recorded.

    • Minority may request a vote to be roll call...

    • BUTE, apparently, there seems to be some sort of technicality with how the roll call can be requested that basically allows majority to ignore the minority's request (minority must be called on to request... and majority doesn't have to call on them). Gotta LOVE politics.

  • Third of all, while Maddow tried to make it like some nefarious evil totalitarian power grab by Republicans (even throwing out stats like 90%+ of bills passed that way by Republicans)... subsequent second looks reveals that Democrats... did exactly the same thing.

    Of the 761 bills passed when the Democrats had control of the House, 744 had “immediate effect.” (quoted by GOP press secretary, but confirmed by Columbia Journalism Review - not exactly a hotbed of conservatism).

For anyone who wants an in-depth and somewhat balanced look at the story, CJR's article seems to be a good starting point (http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/maddow_michigan.php?page=all&print=true)

  • you beat me to it by 30 mins. I was going to link to the cjr article that explains how both parties have been doing it this way for the longest time. I think I have a complementary answer that at least give credence to the Republican claims that no legislative procedural laws were violated. +1 for this though.
    – user1873
    Oct 1 '13 at 2:34

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