How many votes has your lawmaker missed?
State Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, had one of the worst records this year when it came to missed floor votes in the state Legislature, according to WashingtonVotes.org, a nonpartisan organization that prepares the annual tabulations.
Zarelli attributed his 45 missed votes to his time spent working on the state’s supplemental operating budget. He is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
“Many of the votes I missed this year took place in the final two weeks of the regular legislative session,” Zarelli told WashingtonVotes.org, which tallied missed floor votes during the 2012 regular and special sessions.
Zarelli added: “In the next-to-last week of the session I was involved in putting together the bipartisan Senate coalition and drafting the budget it passed; in that final week I and others in the coalition were doing everything we could to get negotiations with the House moving forward. At times like those, you may have to choose missing a vote in favor of working to reach a budget agreement and adjourn the session on time.”
The only senators with more missed votes than Zarelli are Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, with 64; Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, with 56; and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, with 50.
“Missed votes by legislators may be due to illness, family emergencies, or other good reasons,” WashingtonVotes.org notes. “Users of this report should always ask before jumping to conclusions about a lawmaker’s missed votes record.”
The votes Zarelli skipped did not appear to be close votes in which his say would have been the deciding factor, according to data on WashingtonVotes.org.
Senators had the opportunity to take 423 different votes on the floor this year. State Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, missed 13 of those votes and state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, missed seven.
The seven missed votes Benton had were significantly fewer when compared to previous legislative sessions. During last year’s legislative session, Benton missed 79 of 648 floor votes. In 2010, Benton missed 56 of 541 Senate floor votes, placing him among the top five senators for missed votes that year.
In 2009, Benton missed 157 of 847 Senate floor votes, more than all but two other members. In the 2008 session, Benton missed only 11 Senate floor votes out of 549 held.
Regarding sessions in which he’s missed a large number of votes, Benton has told WashingtonVotes.org that he misses votes on occasion while meeting with constituents or while negotiating with members of the House to affect a better outcome on legislation. He also said he only misses votes in which the outcome would not be affected by his absence.
“Voting is not all we do up here,” Benton said by phone this week, adding that he spends a lot of time meeting with constituents. “I never missed a vote that was critically important.”
Benton also said Senate rules prohibit senators stepping in to vote for a fellow lawmaker, but in the House, where votes are done electronically, it’s possible to have one House member vote for one who is absent.
Pridemore said that his missed votes likely happened while he was negotiating legislation off the floor. Missed votes are “more common the more active you are as a legislator,” he added.
This year, the average number of votes a senator missed was 12, and most of the state’s 49 senators missed six votes or fewer. Meanwhile, the average number of votes a House member missed this year was about 7.5, and most of the state’s 98 House members didn’t miss any votes, according to the report.
State Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, missed nine out of 498 votes, while no votes were missed by representatives Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver; Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama; Tim Probst, D-Vancouver; or Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.
Rivers said missed votes in the Washington Legislature is a part of “being a citizen legislature. Sometimes you have to miss some votes, and you do your best to be in so many places at one time.”
The House member with the most missed votes this year was Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, who said he missed 95 votes “due to prior business and personal commitments.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Zarelli, Pridemore, Rivers and Benton.