Expungement of Voting Records in California State Assembly

A few weeks ago, 28 members of the California State Assembly voted to support a measure to allow additional drilling from an existing oil platform at Tranquillon Ridge off the Santa Barbara coast.  48 Assembly members, almost all the Democrats, voted against it.  After the measure failed, leaders in the Assembly expunged the vote from the official state database.  As a result, the voting logs on the Assembly’s website no longer show who voted for or against the bill.  A printout of the vote was available to those in the Assembly chamber until Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) made a motion to expunge the vote.  Torrico declined to comment on the issue.  Other Democrats argue that the action to expunge was advanced by Assembly Minority Leader San Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), but his office denied that he was behind it.

Another example of removing voting records occurred last year when the Assembly voted on a bill that would have reduced the punishment for crack cocaine crimes and increased the punishment for powder cocaine violations.  The text of that bill stated its intent was “to eliminate the racially disparate impact of existing law.”  Yet another final vote that was expunged from the record occurred on a bill that would have created an independent commission to revise some criminal penalties.  That vote was controversial because law enforcement groups felt it would lead to overall weaker punishments, which they opposed.

The little-known practice of expunging votes in the State Assembly has been used on 71 different votes in the past six years.  There is little purpose to this practice other than to allow lawmakers to hide their votes from the public and avoid leaving any trace of their decision on the official record that could possibly be used against them when running for reelection.

A bill cannot become law without an official record on the vote.  Some Assembly officials support the practice of expunging voting records, saying that only a tiny fraction of the approximately 5,000 votes that take place in a typical two-year session are purged from the record.  They also say there are instances when a vote on a bill is expunged, but the same bill is voted on again later for the record and passes.  According to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’ (D-Los Angeles) spokeswoman Shannon Murphy, “Though it’s rare, occasionally the procedural step of expunging a vote is necessary.”  She went on further to say that the procedure can be used to allow “further discussion and negotiation that may ultimately lead to consensus on a contentious issue.”

This is absolutely ridiculous.  As a matter of policy, the State Assembly should not be allowed to expunge any voting records.  Our elected officials should be responsible to the public for their actions.  To remove traces of voting history in order to make reelection easier for incumbents is dishonest.  It is a cover-up, plain and simple.  Our elected officials should be forced to face the consequences of their actions, and their voting records should forever be available to the public.

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