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Do US Congress Members Ever Accidentally Vote the Wrong Way?

Published: Mar 22, 2015

Members of US Congress cast votes on a variety of issues, some of which have significant importance for government policy. For example, the 113th US Congress (2014) cast votes on 929 items. The House of Representatives had 441 members and Senate had 100 members in 2014. That means that in 2014 alone, at least 280,000 votes were cast in the US Congress. But do Congress members ever accidentally vote the wrong way? It turns out that yes, they do. In fact, between 2011 and 2014, US Congress members have accidentally cast the wrong vote at least 120 times.

This fact has emerged from research by Harper's and New York Times in 2014. Although the research sounds alarming, considering the total number of votes cast in Congress during this time period, the rate of error is less than 1%. Surprisingly, Congress members often own up to their mistakes because it clarifies their position on an issue. Although the exact causes of the errors are not known, they may be due to wrong use of equipment, wording of the amendment or bill, or simply due to rapid voting sessions.

US Congress members cast their vote using an electronic voting machine. The process involves the Congress member inserting his or her card into the machine and then making a selection between "yea," "nay," or "present" with the press of a button.

More about voting in the US Congress:

  • The voting machine used by US Congress members was invented by Thomas Edison.
  • The majority of voting mistakes in the US Congress (67%) occur during voting on amendments.
  • Unlike members of the House of Representatives, Senators may change their vote after voting is completed as long as it doesn't affect the outcome.
WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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