Lawmaker discusses mistaken vote on controversial fracking bill

by: Jeff Smith Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A controversial bill is now law because of one Charlotte lawmaker's mistake.

She voted “yes” when she meant to vote “no,” putting North Carolina on a course toward fracking.

Now, for the first time, Rep. Becky Carney is telling only Channel 9 what went wrong.

“This vote was the vote that was heard around the world,” Carney said.

The vote that Carney is talking about is the one that legalized fracking, the process of pumping millions of gallons of a water-chemical mixture into underground rocks to release natural gas.

Carney has voted against fracking bills in the past, but earlier this month, she made a mistake during the 10-second window to vote on another one.

“A mistake can happen,” Carney said. “It happens all the time.”

She pressed the green button and accidentally voted for fracking.

“I still get a little emotional thinking about it. I'm a person of my word,” Carney said.  “All I could think about was all those people I had told one thing, and then accidentally did another. And there was no way to take it back.”

Carney wasn't permitted to change her vote because it was the deciding vote. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis said that's been the rule for decades.

“There are a lot of people that can rationalize why they want to change their vote afterward. What they need to do is pay attention and vote right the first time,” Tillis said.

Lawmakers are normally allowed to change their votes. Representatives changed votes more than 150 times so far this year, often waiting a full day before doing it.

“You've asked to have your vote changed 10 times. That's the most in the Mecklenburg County delegation. What message does that send to your constituents?” Eyewitness News asked.

“Well, those were all different circumstances,” Carney said. “I was trying to get to my desk most of the time, before the 10 seconds was up.”

Tillis said because of Channel 9’s investigation into vote changing, he plans on pushing for a rule change when the legislature reconvenes in January.

“Give them twice the amount of time, maybe 20 seconds,” Tillis said. “But once that vote is cast, and once the machine is locked, we move on. If we do that, then we'll be probably not allow any votes to be changed once the votes are cast.”

But it's too late to fix the fracking mistake.

The Sierra Club said fracking will contaminate water sources and release massive levels of methane into the environment.

“People's faucets have caught on fire when they turn the water on and somebody had a match lit by it. It's a huge problem,” said Chatham Olive with the NC Sierra Club.

A Department of Natural Resources study said the state needs to tightly regulate the industry and mandate full disclosure of the chemicals during fracking.

Carney is still haunted by her vote, but is trying to find a silver lining in the mistake.

“I think everybody is now more cognizant of your vote before you hit that button,” she said.

The law creates a new Energy and Mining Commission that will conduct studies to monitor water and air quality.

The legislature will have to vote in two years before drilling rigs and derricks can be set up.

More information:

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources study

State environmental agency issues final report on hydraulic fracturing