Butler defends himself in Assembly voting flap

A video appearing to capture an Assembly rules violation doesn’t tell the entire story, says Assembl

A video appearing to capture an Assembly rules violation doesn’t tell the entire story, says Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport.

Earlier this week, the Legislative Gazette released a video showing Democratic and Republican Assembly members voting on behalf of their colleagues. In the videos, members usually lean over to the desk next to them and punch in a vote on the electronic voting system that each member has at their desk, which is a violation of the chamber’s rule that requires members to be present at their “regularly assigned seat” when they vote.

The video included a member voting for Butler, whose district includes Fulton County, but he says the assigned seat rule didn’t apply to him because he was temporarily serving in a Republican leadership function at the time of the vote. Stationed about 20 feet from his assigned seat, he manned one of the desks reserved for the two floor leaders of the Republican Party.

“I couldn’t leave the desk,” Butler said, explaining why he had a colleague vote at his desk.

Assembly rules do exempt the “acting” leadership of both parties from the assigned seat voting requirement. The rules do not say anything about having members vote on behalf of another member, however. Butler maintains his voting arrangement was only executed after an understanding had been reached with the Democratic leadership in the Assembly.

Russ Haven, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said it wasn’t clear whether Butler had actually violated a rule.

“It’s certainly a good explanation,” Haven said of Butler’s rationale.

If it was determined that Assembly rules had been broken, several different punishments could be implemented, said Joseph Zimmerman, a political science professor at the University of Albany. The least severe punishment would be a public or private verbal reprimand by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and the most severe punishment would be expulsion by a two-thirds vote of the chamber.

A spokesman for Silver wouldn’t comment on possible punishments for members who broke the assigned seat voting requirement but did note members are required to “cast their own votes.”

Even if Butler did break an Assembly rule, Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said that it’s not clear whether anyone in the voting public would actually care.

“It doesn’t seem like the biggest deal in the world,” he said, adding that it’s a complicated issue just to explain to voters.

Categories: Schenectady County

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