A controversial bill that legalizes fracking in North Carolina is now law because a lawmaker from Mecklenburg County said she accidentally voted for the bill and did not realize she pressed the wrong button.
Rep. Becky Carney voted for the natural gas extraction bill and immediately said she made a mistake, but she was not allowed to change her vote because her’s was the deciding vote in passing the bill.
Her voting record shows this was not the first time Carney had made a similar mistake. According to voting record kept by the state House, Carney successfully changed her vote eight times last year and twice this year, the most in the 10-member Mecklenburg County delegation.
A government watchdog group said lawmakers are not always focused when it comes time to vote because they know they are allowed to make a change.
“I think it builds into that narrative that we’re paying these people too much and they’re not doing their job,” said Bob Phillips with Common Cause NC.
Of the 10-member delegation from Mecklenburg County, only Thom Tillis does not vote. Seven of the remaining nine changed their votes last year. This year, five of nine delegates have.
In all, representative from across the state changed votes 426 times last year.
The votes are usually changed within a few minutes, but there are times when the change comes several hours or even a day later.
Lawmakers press either a green “Yes” or a red “No” at their desks to vote. Once the speaker calls for a vote, though, they have only 10 seconds to cast that vote.
“Ten seconds is pretty brief, and I think if this problem continues, they should look at expanding the time a little more,” Phillips said.
Watchdogs said technological distractions are an increasing problem, too.
“They have their tablets. They have their cellphones. They have their laptops,” Phillips said.
Rodney Moore changed his vote eight times last year and once this year. He waited 24 hours to change his vote on a $20 million prison hospital for the state.
“It’s very east for you to cast the wrong vote in rushing to cast your vote,” he said.
Bill Brawley made eight changes over the last 18 months, and he once waited 24 hours to change his vote on allowing hospitals to give privileges to substitute physicians. He pointed out that he voted early on nearly 1,500 bills and amendments, but added that he’s only human.
“If that’s the worst mistake I make, and I catch it and correct it, it’s not such a bad thing,” Brawley said.
Tillis has not responded to questions of whether he is considering extending the voting window.
Several members of the Mecklenburg County delegation, including Carney, also have not responded to requests for comment.