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This question is in reference to Rep. Thomas Massie's threat to force a roll call vote for the CARES act.

My understanding is that the House wants to go by unanimous consent, and Massie shot it down because if at least one person requests a vote (voice or roll call), we have to vote.

But then, what determines if we want to go by voice or roll call? Voice votes seem so random and subjective -- how do you even judge whose voice is louder? It seems like Massie was against the judgement on the voice call, then on what ground was his request denied? What does it take to force a roll call?

If someone questions which side is truly "louder," does the house have obligation to force a recorded, objective roll call, or the clerk/speaker/whoever judges the "loudness" and just insist that one side is louder than the other?

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This was a voice vote, not a unanimous consent request.

After a voice voice, any member can request a recorded vote, the yeas and nays, but there's a sort of pre-vote that happens next. The chair asks people to stand if they support the recorded vote. If 1/5 of a quorum (typically 44 people) stand then the recorded vote will happen.

In this case, a few people voted no, and only a few people stood for the recorded vote.

If a voice vote is close then the "losing" side would likely stand and affirm the demand for a recorded vote as they'd be able to satisfy 1/5 for it.

House Rules

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What determines whether the US House votes by voice, roll call, or unanimous consent?

[Note that in the following a "recorded vote" vote is a roll call vote. The House only uses a roll call vote when the electronic system is unavailable.]

Congressional Research Service, The Legislative Process on the House Floor: An Introduction, Updated May 20, 2019.

Unanimous Consent

Legislation is sometimes brought before the House of Representatives for consideration by the unanimous consent of its Members. Long-standing policies announced by the Speaker regulate unanimous consent requests for this purpose. Among other things, the Speaker will recognize a Member to propound a unanimous consent request to call up an unreported bill or resolution only if that request has been cleared in advance with both party floor leaders and with the bipartisan leadership of the committee of jurisdiction.

Voting and Quorum Procedures

Whenever Representatives vote on the floor, there is almost always first a “voice vote,” in which the Members in favor of the bill, amendment, or motion vote “Aye” in unison, followed by those voting “No.” Before the Speaker (or the chair of the Committee of the Whole) announces the result, any Representative can demand a “division vote,” in which the Members in favor stand up to be counted, again followed by those opposed. But before the result of either a voice vote or a division vote is announced, a Member may try to require another vote in which everyone’s position is recorded publicly.

This recorded vote is taken by using the House’s electronic voting system. In Committee of the Whole, an electronic vote is ordered when 25 Members request it. In the House, such a vote occurs when demanded by at least one-fifth of the Members present. Alternatively, any Member can demand an electronically recorded vote in the House if a quorum of the membership is not present on the floor when the voice or division vote takes place.

The Constitution requires that a quorum must be present on the floor when the House is conducting business. In the House, a quorum is a majority of the Representatives; in Committee of the Whole, it is only 100 Members. However, the House has traditionally assumed that a quorum is always present unless a Member makes a point of order that it is not. The rules restrict when Members can make such points of order, and they occur most often when the House or the Committee of the Whole is voting. In the House, for example, a Representative can object to a voice or division vote on the grounds that a quorum is not present and make that point of order. If a quorum is not present, the Speaker automatically orders an electronically recorded vote during which Members record their presence on the floor by casting their votes. The issue is decided and a quorum is established at the same time. A voice or division vote is valid even if less than a quorum participates in the vote so long as no one makes a point of order that a quorum is not present. For this reason, Members can continue to meet in their committees or fulfill their other responsibilities off the floor when the House is doing business that does not involve publicly recorded votes.

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The House needs a quorum in order to pass something. That is, at least half of its members must be present. But the House presumes that there is a quorum until proven otherwise, so as long as no one objects, then the House can pass things by voice vote without showing that there is a quorum.

Now, any member of the House can ask for a recorded vote and in such case they will note who votes and what they vote (using an electronic system). In those cases a quorum is actually required for the vote to be valid. This is also why loudness isn't important because either it is obvious who won or any member of the House can ask for a recorded vote.

So in essence, at least half of the House must be there for votes to count but if nobody objects that rule is disregarded. Thomas Massie did object.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/us/politics/stimulus-package-voice-vote.html

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  • "In those cases a quoruom is actually required for the vote to be valid. This is also why loudness isn't important because either it is obvious who won or any member of the House can ask for a recorded vote." It's rather subjective to assert whether the loudness is "obvious" or not though? If I contend it's not "obvious", what gets to determine if my objection to the "obvious-ness" is valid or not? – Vendetta Mar 27 at 21:29
  • @Vendetta There is a mechanism for the "loudness" objection (but not the quorum question). voting by division (in this case, standing up at the right time and being tallied, but not named. senate.gov/CRSpubs/b79ade62-94d9-4e91-9883-70b00f76a708.pdf – origimbo Mar 27 at 21:31
  • @origimbo thanks. Then once a bill goes into voice vote (determined by the speaker?), it could only be further settled by division vote? Is there any way for the member of the congress to force the vote be on record? – Vendetta Mar 27 at 21:44
  • Any member can ask for a recorded vote so if they doubt the loudness they can get a recorded vote. – Magnus Jørgensen Mar 27 at 22:20
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    @Vendetta If you mean with votes recorded against each member, rather than just the totals, that requires the desire of one fifth of those present (which is a requirement directly via the constitution, per article 1, section 5, clause 3). – origimbo Mar 27 at 22:22

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