Craddick Rebuked for Reps' Rule-Breaking

After receiving a private complaint about absentee voting in the House of Repre­sent­atives, a Travis Co. grand jury has taken an unusual step. It did not hand down any indictments, but on June 26, the 299th grand jury did hand a special report to Judge Charlie Baird criticizing the House for letting members vote in one another's stead. Special reports are extremely rare – this one is the first Baird has received in his career, in fact – and in the report, the grand jury rebukes Speaker Tom Craddick for letting representatives break House rules.

Representatives vote at their desks electronically by unlocking a voting control with a key and then pressing a button "yea" or "nay." The vote is then indicated on a light board behind the speaker's desk. Some reps leave their keys in when they're away from their desks, so their neighbors can vote on their behalf. This practice became a minor scandal last session after KEYE ran footage of members seemingly voting twice, although the long-established tradition was scarcely a revelation.

The grand jury report says that this behavior breaks Rule 5, Section 47 of the Rules and Precedents of the Texas House, which bars members from voting for one another. "The mere assertion that it is an established custom or practice does not in and of itself excuse the practice," reads the report. Since no member has complained, there is no crime to prosecute, but the report still blames Crad­dick for not acting when he had "at the very least constructive knowledge" of violations. It suggests reforms beyond simply stronger enforcement, including installing key-card activated voting machines as used by the U.S. Congress or, in a new twist for electronic-voting paper trails, requiring that members get written permission from one another to press their buttons.

Craddick's press secretary, Alexis DeLee, said that the House rules were meant to ensure that a member's wishes were respected, and she criticized KEYE's reporting as incomplete. "It did not show the members' communication with one another," she said. "There was no evidence of any member that has voted contrary to their intentions."

The grand jury expressed doubt that the system works so smoothly, writing that members "who complain about a miscast vote ... may be ostracized."

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