Examining Benton’s missed votes defense

It’s no secret that missed votes have become an issue in the 17th District Senate race. Incumbent state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has missed 299 votes during the past four legislative sessions – a point hammered home by his challenger, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver.

Benton’s defense to this campaign charge is twofold: He says he misses votes when he’s off meeting with constituents or lawmakers in the House. He also says it’s unfair to compare his record of missed votes with Probst’s record of three missed votes, because in the House, members can have someone vote in their place.

Rather than run for re-election to the House, Probst decided to run for Benton’s Senate seat this fall.

Did Benton miss votes because he’s in important meetings with constituents and other policy makers? It’s impossible to say for sure.

A request to see Benton’s legislative calendar was denied by Senate Republicans’ spokesman Eric Campbell. According to the state’s public disclosure laws, legislative calendars are off limits to the public.

Campbell also made the point that if lawmakers opened their calendars up for public inspection, then political opponents would pounce on information found in their schedules come campaign season.

And what about voting rule differences between the House and the Senate? Yes, the rules are slightly different.

In the House, a lawmaker may step off to the side of the floor to chat with someone. That’s fairly common. House members are permitted to ask a colleague to press their voting button for them, but only if the House member is still somewhere in the chamber.

In the Senate, lawmakers vote by shouting “Yea” or “Nay,” so they can’t have another member vote in their place. Senate members who step away from their seats to converse off the floor can still get their votes counted, though.

If they miss their vote during the roll call, they can poke their head back into the floor area before the final vote is tallied and ask permission to vote at that time.

When Probst was asked about the missed votes issue during a recent editorial board meeting with The Columbian, he replied: “It’s not hard to vote in the Senate. It’s a little easier to vote in the House, but it’s not hard to vote in the Senate.”

Benton declined to attend the meeting.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics

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