There are four types of votes that occur in the House of Representatives. They are voice, division, yea and nay, and record votes. A voice vote refers to members calling out ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ whenever a question is put in the House. The Speaker will determine the outcome of the vote by the volume of each response. In some instances, the Speaker can say a variation on a voice vote, which means that the question is adopted.
A division vote may be demanded by any member after a voice vote has been taken. First, the members in favor will stand and be counted. Next, those opposed will stand and be counted. A division vote will show only vote total and will not provide a record of how individual members voted on the question.
Under automatic yea and nay votes, a member may choose to “object on the ground that a quorum is not present and make a point of order that a quorum is not present.” The actual vote can then be determined for the presence of a quorum as well as the outcome of that particular pending question.
A record vote will be taken if 1/5 of quorum, which is 44 members, stand and support the request. Just as in the case with a yea and nay vote, a record vote will be taken by the electronic voting system.
Both voice votes and division votes will be taken in the Committee of the Whole. In order to obtain a record vote, 25 members must support the request of a member for a record vote. If there are fewer than 100 members present, which is the minimum number required for a quorum of the Committee of the Whole, a member may choose to demand a record vote.
The minimum amount of time for a record vote or quorum call is 15 minutes. This applies to both the House and the Committee of the Whole. The Speaker does have the authority to postpone and then cluster certain votes as well as to reduce the time to five minutes after an initial 15 minute vote. Cluster voting allows for sequential recorded votes on a series of measures or amendments that the House has completed debating at an earlier time. The Speaker retains the option of reducing the minimum amount of time for the second and subsequent votes in series of five minutes each.
The most common method used to consider bills and resolutions in the House is suspension of the rules. This method has evolved as a way for measures that enjoy widespread support to be quickly processed by the House. A motion to suspend the rules and pass a bill is debatable for 40 minutes. The Member making the motion controls 20 minutes of the time, and another Member controls the other 20 minutes of time. When debate has concluded, a single vote is held on the question of suspending the rules and passing the measure. Members cannot offer amendments from the floor, but an amendment might be included in the motion. A two-thirds vote is required to pass a measure under suspension. Many suspension motions are passed by voice vote.
Most major bills, however, are considered through a multi-stage process involving the Committee on Rules. Special rules are House resolutions reported by the Committee on Rules that set the terms for debating and amending measures. Through special rules, the House majority can customize floor procedures for considering each bill. The House first approves a special rule and then considers the bill under the terms of that rule. After an hour of debate on a special rule, a Member typically moves the previous question, a motion that proposes to end consideration of a matter. The previous question is almost invariably agreed to, and the House then votes on approving the special rule.
When a measure is considered under the terms of a special rule, there is first a period for general debate on the bill. After general debate, there might be an opportunity to offer amendments to the bill, but it depends on the special rule. A closed rule is one that does not allow amendments to be offered from the floor. Under an open rule, in contrast, Members can offer any amendment that does not violate a House rule, including statutory provisions that the House has designated to function as House rules, such as the Budget Act. More commonly today, amendments are offered under rules that allow specific amendments identified in the report of the Rules Committee accompanying the special rule. Before the House votes on final passage of a measure, there may be a vote on a motion to recommit, which proposes that the bill be returned to committee for further consideration.
A bill or joint resolution must pass both the House and the Senate in precisely the same form before it can be sent to the President. Historically, the House has resolved its differences with the Senate on major legislation through conference committees (panels of Representatives and Senators from the committees of jurisdiction who meet to negotiate a compromise version of the bill). The resulting recommended legislation—the conference report—must be approved by both the House and Senate and cannot be amended. Sometimes, the House and Senate resolve their differences not through conference committee, but through amendments between the houses. In this process, the chambers shuttle a measure back and forth until they both agree to the same text.
See Chapter 4 – House Floor, in Congressional Procedure
- House Rule XVI. Motions and Amendments
- “The Amending Process in the House of Representatives,” CRS Report 98-995 (49-page PDF)
- “The Legislative Process on the House Floor: An Introduction,” CRS Report 95-563 (18-page PDF)
- “Special Rules in the House of Representatives,” CRS Report 96-938 (130-page PDF)
- “House Committee Markups: Manual of Procedures and Procedural Strategies,” CRS Report R41083 (220-page PDF)
- “Considering Legislation on the House Floor: Common Practices in Brief,” CRS Report R43424 (12-page PDF)
- “Speaking on the House Floor: Gaining Time and Parliamentary Phraseology,” CRS Report RS22991 (11-page PDF)
- “House Rules and Precedents Affecting Committee Markup Procedures,” CRS Report 97-1045 (9-page PDF)
- “The Committee Markup Process in the House of Representatives,” CRS Report RL30244 (29-page PDF)
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