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The Constitution allows for the Vice President to vote on an issue if the vote is equally divided. There have been a number of occasions when the Vice President has cast a negative vote, see here.

Why would the Vice President ever cast a vote in the negative? A vote cast in the negative is redundant since an equally divided vote fails to secure majority.

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    Why would the vice president ever not cast a vote? Not casting a vote is redundant since an equally divided vote fails to secure majority. May 16 at 12:18
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    @SriotchilismO'Zaic: Casting a vote requires showing up. In practice, the VP has many day-to-day responsibilities which don't involve presiding over the Senate, so the VP usually only shows up for the specific purpose of breaking a tie, or for ceremonial purposes such as during the State of the Union address.
    – Kevin
    May 16 at 22:34

3 Answers 3

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Mostly (if anything), just to set a record. As a way of making the failing of the motion more "official", or to show the White House's opposition to it. Technically, the result is always the same as if no vote was cast by the VP.

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    I see this answer as correct, but I wonder if it is possible to address this from a political theory perspective? It seems to me that typically politicians try to avoid taking votes that they do not have to take.
    – Viktor
    May 16 at 22:52
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    "politicians try to avoid taking votes" I don't think that politics was game-ified in this way through all of history. May 17 at 1:09
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The Vice President used to be the person who placed 2nd in the Presidential race which makes it likely that they where not in the same party as the president. That was changed with the 12th amendment which put both on the same ticket. Also there are cases where a tie vote is preventing something that the President/Vice President don't support and casting a present vote ensure it doesn't pass without them actually voting against it.

Casting a vote against the bill is done when the goal is to show the position against the bill in question.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelfth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

Selecting the vice president was a simpler process. Whichever candidate received the second greatest number of votes for president became vice president. The vice president, unlike the president, was not required to receive votes from a majority of the electors. In the event of a tie for second place, the Senate would hold a contingent election to select the vice president from those tied, with each senator casting one vote. A candidate was required to receive an absolute majority, more than half of the total Senate membership, in order to be chosen as vice president.

The original electoral system worked adequately for the first two presidential elections because on both occasions George Washington was the unanimous choice of the electors for president; the only real contest was the election for vice president for which an overall majority was not required. George Washington's decision not to seek a third term and the emergence of partisan political activity exposed problems with the original procedure.

12th amendment

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;

The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.[a]

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

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    You've explained everything except "casting a present vote ensure it doesn't pass without them actually voting against it" which is the only part that answers the question.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 16 at 3:39
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    I don't see what the 12th amendment has to do with anything... Why does it matter that the President and VP might be from different parties? May 16 at 12:19
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    But the President doesn't dictate the legislation in the Senate anyway... the question is asking why they vote negatively rather than just voting present or not turning up, which would have the same effect of the legislation failing. May 16 at 12:24
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    So your answer is that it's just to show you're against legislation, which is exactly the same as Gouvernathor's answer... I still don't see how the 12th amendment is relevant in the slightest, but I can see this isn't going anywhere :P May 16 at 12:44
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    @LongBongSilver I feel it is relevant because it gives another reason for a possible vote against something especially if the President is for it.
    – Joe W
    May 16 at 12:49
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As I was unsatisfied with the answers already given, I decided to explore the data that is readily available from the Senate website. From the Senate votes website, it is possible to get an xml spreadsheet for past roll call votes for each US Congress, starting from the 101st Congress.

To answer the question of why the Vice President would cast a negative vote, we must first develop a model of how the Vice President would vote in a given situation.

From the 101st Congress to the present, the Vice President has cast a vote a total 48 times. In each of these votes, the Vice President voted in the affirmative. However, in that same period of time, there have been a total of 104 votes that were equally divided and required simple majority vote to pass. As a side note, the Constitution does grant the Vice President a vote whenever the Senate is equally divided and, strictly speaking, there have been 145 instances of this since the 101st Congress, but 41 of these votes involved Questions that require either 3/5ths approval or 2/3rds approval. For example, the vote was split 50-50 on whether or not to convict Bill Clinton of Article Two in the Articles of Impeachment against Clinton and hypothetically a casting vote could have been cast here without any effect.

In the 48 cases where the Vice President has voted in the affirmative, the Vice President's party has always had more Senators vote in the affirmative than in the negative. The only times the Vice President's party has had substantive disagreement (defined as less than 40 Senators from the Vice President's party in support) on the Question for which the vote was tied was Senate vote 255 of the 2nd session of the 103rd Congress (motion to table johnston amdt no. 2446 on H.R. 4624) and Senate vote 119 of the 2nd Session of the 107th Congress (Motion to Table Allen Amdt. No. 3406). In both of these votes less than 40 Senators from the Vice President's party supported the Question at hand.

One can then make the general conclusion that if the Vice President casts a "Yea" vote, then there is at least “majority of the majority” support for that issue within the Vice President's party (at least since the 101st Congress).

Unfortunately, the number of "Nay" votes from the Vice President are limited and all of these "Nay" votes are from prior to the 101st Congress. However, the times the Vice President does not cast a tie breaking vote are quite telling.

Since the 101st Congress, the Vice President could have cast a tie breaking vote 56 more times, but did not. On 16 of these occasions, the majority of the Vice President's party supported the affirmative side of the issue at hand, see the list of votes here; however, the Vice President did not cast a vote in the affirmative. There are a number of reasons this could have happened, but I believe the most likely reasons are:

  1. The Vice President was not informed, the Vice President was not told that the vote would be close, or leadership did not realize the vote would be tied.
  2. The Vice President did not want to take a public stand on that issue.

One of example of the first reason could be vote 237 of the 1st session of the 103rd Congress. Here the Question was "to Table (motion to table: is harkin amdt. no. 756, germane)" and on this issue the motion failed. However, it was clear this amendment was not going anywhere because immediately after the vote to table this motion failed, the amendment fell because 54 Senators voted that the amendment was not germane. This seems to be an issue, where either the leadership did not expect the tied vote or the Vice President was not informed because the amendment would die anyway.

One of the examples of the second reason was the Boxer amendment No. 2873 to Senate Bill 1134 in the 2nd session of the 106th Congress. During the time this vote was taken, Al Gore was in the midst of his 2000 Presidential campaign and may have not wanted to be seen as anti-gun. The amendment stated that "the United States Congress has failed to pass reasonable, common-sense gun control measures that would help to make schools safer, improve the learning environment, and stem the tide of gun violence in America" (among other anti-gun language). Here, Al Gore probably did not want to make enemies of the gun lobby or the anti-gun lobby while he was running for President and skipped the vote to maintain "strategic" political ambiguity.

From these case studies, it becomes evident that the Vice President very rarely casts a "Nay" vote.

A "Nay" vote is only cast when the Vice President wants to make it clear for political purposes that the Vice President opposes a particular issue or supports its converse; this wikipedia article provides a list of casting votes of the Vice President since 1945 and we see the few "Nay" votes cast allowed the Vice President to take a clear political stance: Agnew supporting the Safeguard missile program, Bush voting against a motion to reconsider a nomination and showing his support for a conservative judge. Lastly, in the last few decades, the Vice President seems to have abandoned casting performative "Nay" votes altogether.

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