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Historically, during events like presidential impeachment proceedings, certain House members have expressed safety concern due to the public exposure of their votes, leading to a desire for secret voting.

I am interested in understanding the legitimacy and procedural aspects of conducting secret votes in the US House of Representatives, particularly when concerns for members' safety are a factor.

Specifically:

  1. Under what circumstances, if any, does the House of Representatives have the authority or mechanisms to conduct votes in secrecy?
  2. What procedures or rules would need to be invoked or followed to ensure a vote is conducted in secrecy?
  3. Can members express concerns about their safety as a valid reason for requesting a secret vote, and how is such a request typically evaluated or approved?
  4. Are there historical precedents or instances where secret votes have been conducted in the House of Representatives due to concerns about members' safety, and if so, what were the outcomes?

I would appreciate factual information, references to relevant rules or precedents, and insights into the legal and procedural aspects of this issue. Understanding the mechanisms in place for addressing safety concerns in the voting process is of particular interest.


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Sure, not a problem, per the pop-up suggestion to edit and explain why, I wanted to clarify specifically why Why are congressional votes not secret? does not answer my questions.

  1. It doesn't delve into specific circumstances or mechanisms for conducting secret votes in detail.
  2. It does not provide specific procedures or rules for conducting secret votes.
  3. It does not address whether safety concerns can be a valid reason for requesting a secret vote or how such requests are typically evaluated or approved.
  4. It does not provide historical examples of secret votes due to safety concerns or their outcomes.

Note: It provides some constitutional and historical context regarding the possibility of secrecy in congressional proceedings, it does not directly answer the specific questions about the legitimacy, procedures, and historical precedents related to secret votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, especially when concerns about members' safety are a factor. I'm seeking additional information or sources to address these specific aspects of this inquiry.

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    Related: Why are congressional votes not secret?
    – Rick Smith
    Sep 30, 2023 at 19:08
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    @RickSmith: in fact the 2nd answer there rather answers the Q. Somewhat theoretically since no [truly] secret votes have been undertaken (unlike in the EP). But it does discuss/say that/when entering them on the record is required. Sep 30, 2023 at 22:41
  • To @JoeW and others who inquired whether the other/suggested post or any of the answers there adequately address my questions, I've taken the system's recommended approach and made specific edits to my question. I have provided a more detailed breakdown of my inquiries, explicitly stating why the other post or its answers fall short in providing complete answers. Oct 1, 2023 at 11:27
  • I still feel that it is a duplicate as it addresses why the votes are not secret with the constitution and transparency being the key factor. Being able to have secret votes removes all accountability.
    – Joe W
    Oct 1, 2023 at 14:07
  • As a side note, they have the ability to do voice votes in congress which lets people hide how they voted. This does cause situations where congress takes action and everyone ends up denying that they supported that action.
    – Joe W
    Oct 1, 2023 at 14:40

1 Answer 1

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Q: Under what circumstances, if any, does the House of Representatives have the authority or mechanisms to conduct votes in secrecy?

None. It is easy to forget that the Constitution is an order by the people. ("We the People of the United States, ..., do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.") As part of that order "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings". For the House to provide a rule for voting in secret is to say, in effect, that the people ordered the House to hide from the people the votes of their representatives.


Q: What procedures or rules would need to be invoked or followed to ensure a vote is conducted in secrecy?

There are no existing rules for conducting a vote in secret.

Immediately before the vote, the Speaker would need to invoke paragraph 10 of rule XVII in a manner contrary to the stated intent of the rule. This would be a serious abridgment of the First Amendment "freedom of the press", but the House makes its own rules, and changing a rule is not technically "mak[ing] a law".

Secret sessions

  1. When confidential communications are received from the President, or when the Speaker or a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner informs the House that such individual has communications that such individual believes ought to be kept secret for the present, the House shall be cleared of all persons except the Members, Delegates, Resident Commissioner, and officers of the House for the reading of such communications, and debates and proceedings thereon, unless otherwise ordered by the House.

With visitors and the press removed, the vote could then be taken by "division" with the understanding that members will not use the "one-fifth of the quorum rule" for a recorded vote. Only the count of yeas and nays would appear in the record.

The absence of cameras and the press would prevent any identification of how any member voted. The press would rightfully challenge the action, but what was done is done.


Q: Can members express concerns about their safety as a valid reason for requesting a secret vote, and how is such a request typically evaluated or approved?*

Members can express any of their concerns to party leaders. Any such concerns are off the record. There is no privileged motion for conducting a vote in secret for any reason. Only House leadership could address that issue for all or none.

Generally, any concerns about the safety or security of members of Congress are addressed by the U.S. Capitol Police. This is unrelated to voting.

Since 1828, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has provided protection for Congress. Over time, the force has grown in numbers, duties, and responsibilities.

USCP officers work to protect life and property; prevent, detect, and investigate criminal acts; and enforce traffic regulations throughout a large complex of congressional buildings, parks, and thoroughfares. Additionally, USCP officers are responsible for protecting members and officers of Congress and their families. USCP serves throughout the U.S. and its territories and possessions.


Q: Are there historical precedents or instances where secret votes have been conducted in the House of Representatives due to concerns about members' safety, and if so, what were the outcomes?

There is no record of a secret vote in the House for any reason.

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  • Thank you for your thorough response and references. I'll wait a bit longer to see if there are additional insights from other experts. While your answer is quite solid, I want to ensure all perspectives are considered before accepting it. Oct 2, 2023 at 9:54
  • The first point is ludicrous. All secret services are indirectly established by the Constitution, and there are no challenges to the basic idea that government officials have the power to hide information to their constituents (SCI, classified info and so on). Why would that secrecy apply to the executive branch and to things like the intelligence or defense (legislative) comittees, but not the full house votes ? How would the preamble to the constitution establish such a precise boundary ? Absurd. Oct 3, 2023 at 13:08
  • @Gouvernathor - The question was about how to get around the provision of Art. I § 5 cl. 3 requiring that members' votes, yea or nay, be recorded based on the one-fifth rule. The first point was only about hiding votes normally made public. There was no mention of national security or classified information in that point, so I am confused by your comment.
    – Rick Smith
    Oct 3, 2023 at 14:13
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    @The'BernieSanders'Party - You appear to be asking for the recorded vote to be removed after the fact. As I point out in the second question, there is no requirement for a recorded vote -- use division, not the one-fifth rule. But, that does not remove reporting by the press which could identify how each member voted. Removal of some names would show up as discrepancies in the count of the names of representatives voting and the vote total. Removal would have to be all or none. For approval of the journal, a majority could withhold approval until all names are restored.
    – Rick Smith
    Oct 3, 2023 at 18:03
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    @The'BernieSanders'Party - No secret vote was ever conducted in the House as part of the official business of the House.
    – Rick Smith
    Oct 22, 2023 at 0:04

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