A new category has been added to your representative’s voting records!

You may have noticed that your MP and senator voting records are looking a bit different.

 Voting records are now divided into nine different categories:

  • Voted consistently for
  • Voted almost always for
  • Voted generally for
  • Voted a mixture of for and against
  • Voted generally against
  • Voted almost always against
  • Voted consistently against
  • We can’t say anything concrete about how they voted on

The newest of these categories is the last one, “We can’t say anything concrete about how they voted on”. It will be used for those cases where an MP or senator has only voted once on a policy and that vote didn’t have any particular significance.

This new category is part of our response to recent feedback we’ve received from concerned citizens and staff members of elected representatives about how the voting record is presented on our site. 

What’s wrong with the current voting record?

While They Vote For You has always tried to ensure its content is as accurate as possible, current voting practice in our parliament makes this difficult.

Today in parliament, most votes occur ‘on the voices,’ which is when our representatives yell ‘Aye!’ or ‘No!’ and the loudest side wins. These types of votes are not recorded in any detail, so we have no way of knowing who was in the room at the time or how they voted.

The only officially recorded votes in our parliament are divisions. When a division takes place, our representatives walk to one side of the room or the other (each side represents either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’) and their names are taken down, leaving us with a record of who was present, who was absent, and how each present representative voted.

Divisions are only called under particular circumstances and are much rarer in the House of Representatives than the Senate because most MPs belong to one of the two major parties, which rarely call for them.

Because They Vote For You gets its data from the official record, the only votes that appear on our site are divisions.

Why is this a huge problem?

As we’ve discussed before, having only data from divisions on They Vote For You means that we are only seeing part of the story of how our representatives vote – and a smaller part at that.

Our parliament could do something about this situation but has so far chosen not to. For example, they could introduce electronic voting so that all votes are quickly and efficiently recorded, but a committee that investigated this possibility in 2016 concluded that it was unnecessary.

If the incomplete official voting record concerns you, we encourage you to contact your representative and let them know.

What does this mean for us?

Having an incomplete voting record makes our task on They Vote For You much harder, particularly as not all divisions are created equal. Many divisions are purely symbolic – they express a view, but don’t actually make any legal changes.

After the recent blaze of public interest in our site, we received several emails from concerned citizens and staff members of elected representatives who believe our current approach to weighing divisions can be improved. And we agreed with them.

While our site already allowed for votes to be weighted differently, with ‘strong’ divisions (Yes (strong)/No (strong)) and ‘normal’ ones (Yes/No), these labels were not being applied consistently across all policies. Further, all policies were showing up on representatives’ voting records, even when that representative had only participated in only one ‘normal’ division. This skewed their record and made those representatives appear more or less in favour of a policy on the basis of a single ‘normal’ division.

We agreed that this was a problem and set about trying to find a solution.

What changes have we made?

First, we went through all our policies and ensured that the only divisions marked as ‘strong’ were those that propose real action – such as a change to our law – and are directly relevant to the policy.

Then we created a new category on our voting records: “We can’t say anything concrete about how they voted on”. Policies that appear in this category are ones where the representative has only voted in a single ‘normal’ division, and never in a ‘strong’ division.

We hope that these changes will make They Vote For You a more meaningful resource as we continue to hold our representatives accountable.

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