Keep pushing to get more votes on record

Lawmakers got off to a good start this session with quick votes on roll-call voting.

House members approved 104-0 a bill that would require roll call votes on second readings of bills and resolutions and on amendments to bills made by the other body. That includes recorded votes on each section of the annual budget.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved 44-0 a rule change that requires a recorded vote on every bill that has the force of law and on every section of the budget.

You might think recorded votes, particularly when spending the public's money, would be a matter of course, but not so in South Carolina. Recorded votes that tell the people of this state where their representatives stand on important issues have been far too rare, particularly in the Senate. The House can record votes electronically; the Senate doesn't have that capability and long has conducted much of its business by voice vote.

A 2008 study by the S.C. Policy Council Education Foundation found that House members voted by roll call 8 percent of the time, while senators called the roll in 1 percent of votes for passing bills. The average for the overall legislature was 5 percent.

Legislative leaders criticized the study's methodology, but they eventually recognized which way the political winds were blowing.

Change came in 2009 after now-Gov. Nikki Haley and others pushed for greater transparency. But so far, it has been a matter of setting rules for the session, not a requirement of law.

The House last year passed a bill similar to the one approved last week, but it died in the Senate.

State Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort maintains -- and has legal opinions to back him up -- that knowing how your representative votes is a substantive right that should not be subject to the whims of rule changes.

Unfortunately, not enough senators agree. Opponents say the state constitution does not allow for a statutory solution. If a law is to be passed on the subject, the constitution must be changed first.

The constitution states that the House and Senate set their own procedural rules.

We think Davis is right; the House and Senate can't pass rules that usurp fundamental rights. But we also recognize his pragamatism. He says that if a majority of senators think the constitution prevents statutory protection of our rights, he'll work to change the constitution. First, a resolution to do so must pass both chambers by a two-thirds majority, and then voters must weigh in at the next general election. Legislation implementing the constitutional change probably would be passed at the same time as the resolution and would be set to go into effect if voters approve the change.

That seems a cumbersome way to accomplish something so fundamental to democracy. But if it gets the job done, we'll take it.