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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

Sec. 20. Recording Parliamentary Votes

To ensure accountability to their constituents for their voting behavior, parliament shall seek to minimize the use of voice voting in plenary and shall use roll call or electronic voting in most cases, maintaining and making available to the public a record of the individual voting behavior of individual members of parliament in plenary and in committees.

A parliamentary vote tells citizens how a member of parliament stands on an issue. It is critical information for citizens who will eventually be asked to make choices regarding which members or parties should be returned to parliament in the next elections. As a result it is critical that citizens to understand the positions of their elected officials and have unfettered access to the voting records on all individual votes, including information on abstentions and absences. Using roll call or electronic voting helps to ensure that individual votes are ‘on the record.’ Over-use of voice voting or voting by acclamation should be avoided.

The CPA, APF COPA benchmarks state that plenary votes must be held in public,[1] while SADC-PF adds that “Parliament shall make public any exceptions to this presumption and give advance notice before a secret vote.”[2] When using roll call voting, SADC-PF notes that “the public shall be given access to how Members voted.”[3] The CPA and COPA also stipulate that “voting of committees shall be held in public.”[4] Public votes are becoming increasingly common in practice. In Romania, voting is conducted electronically and openly during plenary sessions and votes are posted on the websites of the respective chambers. Citizens are able to monitor the voting record of each individual member of parliament and citizens and civic groups have used videos of plenary voting to reveal fraudulent voting practices and violations of the rules of procedure.[5] Argentina has recently passed roll call voting.[6] However, few parliaments provide access to votes through open data formats that allow PMOs and citizens to easily analyze voting behavior using technology. Without access to votes in open formats, PMOs such as VoteWatch.eu, which use voting data to help citizens understand complex political processes, must input results into their databases manually or by “scraping” parliamentary websites for data, increasing the potential for error and inaccuracy.

Data on voting records is crucial for the effective monitoring of parliaments. The European Parliament’s releasing of vote data on the website—although not yet available in XML—nonetheless allows for analysis of voting records by PMOs and by civil society. For example, the parliamentary monitoring organization VoteWatch.EU scrapes data from the EU Parliament’s website, and displays extensive searchable information about votes and the debates surrounding them.[7] In Tunisia, after working with civil society groups, the Citizen Assembly agreed to publish all plenary roll call lists on the Assembly’s official website beginning in June 2012.[8]


[1] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §2.6.1; APF, La réalité démocratique des Parlements: Quels critères d’évaluation? §2.2.6.1; COPA The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §2.2.6.2

[2] SADC PF, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §5.6.1.

[3] Ibid., 5.6.3

[4] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §3.1.5; also similarly COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §2.4.1.6.

[5] See, for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFJZyWh_c2c.

[6] Jones, Mark, Hwang, Wonjae. Majority Cartels, Distributive Politics, and Inter-Party Relations in a Unidimensional Legislature: the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, 2003, http://cdi.mecon.gov.ar/biblio/docelec/harvard/conferences/dp3531.pdf. Accessed 4/15/2012.

[7] Doru Frantescu, Policy Director, VoteWatch, State of Play at the EU Level, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament Meeting, Washington, D.C., February 27-29, 2012. http://www.ictparliament.org/attachements/XMLmeeting/Day1P3_Frantescu.pdf. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[8] Wafa Ben Hassine, Constituent Assembly: Duty to Lead the Way in Transparency and Governmental Accountability, Nawaat, 7 Jun 2012. http://www.nawaat.org/portail/2012/06/07/constituent-assembly-duty-to-lead-the-way-in-transparency-and-governmental-accountability/. Accessed 6/12/2012.