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Voting records expunged in California

In California, Legislative votes on bills are posted on the web (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html). In fact, a bill cannot become a law without an official record of the vote. But it is possible to “expunge” votes and the L.A. Times reports that happened recently on a controversial bill.

Although 28 members of the California Assembly supported a measure to allow new oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast, their votes are nowhere to be found in the official state database.

According to the status page for the Assembly Bill “ABX4 23,” on July 24, action was rescinded and the “record expunged whereby a final roll call vote was taken” but no record of the House vote exists on the web site today.

Offshore oil drilling is very controversial in California and both private contractors and the State hoped to reap a lot of money from the drilling. (Plains Exploration Falls On Tranquillon Ridge Rejection >PXP, By Aja Carmichael, Wall Street Journal, JULY 27, 2009).

While voting records are often mis-used, in my opinion, in political contests — taking votes out of context and viewing them as isolated and simple when they are, in fact, part of a process of conflict, compromise, and (one hopes) consensus — removing records from the public record is hard to justify on any grounds.

The usual excuses were used for this recent expunging: It doesn’t happen often; and: Another vote will be taken later on the same or a different bill; and: You can still find the information somewhere else. These are excuses and not reasons and they are not even very good reasons. This is nothing but an attempt to control political information. As one Republican, who wrote the measure, said: “The message to the public is ‘this vote was an inconvenient vote and we would rather you not look at the man behind the curtain.'”

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