PROGRESSIVE MASSACHUSETTS

Scorecard FAQs

1. Aren’t Legislators’ votes online? (Why is compiling this info a big deal?)

2. What votes are able to be looked up?

3. Do all votes have roll calls?

4. Why/when are some votes roll called?

5. Where do you find roll call votes?

6.What about bills that never receive a vote at all?

7. How do amendment votes factor into the scorecard?

8. How do you choose which votes end up in the scorecard?

9. How do I interpret the Scorecard?

9a. The “Progressive Position”

9b. “NV”, “N/A” and “NVP”

9c. Did your Legislator miss votes? Find out why.

9d. What a score is and isn't

9e. Comparing scores across chambers

10. My representative/senator is very progressive but didn’t score well. Why is that?

11. For the House of Representatives, why is the Speaker’s progressive rating  the point of reference instead of the Democratic average?

12. Why do some scores say “Not enough votes to score”?

12a. Partial Terms in Office

12b. Special Case: Senate President

12b. Special Case: High Absence Rate

13. Why do some scores say “Missing some recorded votes”?

14. Can you put up a running tabulation of votes progressives would care about?

1. Aren’t Legislators’ votes online? (Why is compiling this info a big deal?)

Yes. But, finding them is not so simple. Finding your legislator’s voting record, and understanding it, can be very difficult and time-consuming.  Read further for more.

(Quick aside: Don’t see your legislator on this site? Your legislator probably retired, passed away, or moved up or out. Check out our website for archived scorecards: https://www.progressivemass.com/scorecards_and_roll_calls.)

2. What votes are able to be looked up?

Only those votes that have had a recorded vote (“roll call”).

3. Do all votes have roll calls?

No, most Beacon Hill legislation is passed by voice vote. Although you can find out whether an amendment or bill passed or failed by looking at the page for the bill in question, there is no paper trail telling you how your specific legislator voted when it’s a voice vote.

Some votes, however, are ROLL CALLED, which means there is a record of each legislator’s Yea or Nay (or abstention or absence).

4. Why/when are some votes roll called?

Roll calls are only taken when a legislator requests it -- which can be discouraged by the culture of the chamber -- and that request is supported by other members. Reasons for a roll call can include the following:

  1. The vote is close, and it is unclear, by voice, where the majority stands.
  2. The vote is popular, and the chamber’s leadership wants a historical record of an important vote.
  3. The vote is contentious, and legislators wish to have an official record of where people stand.

5. Where do you find roll call votes?

You’ve got to know a lot of information first well before you can find out “how did my legislator vote on healthcare (or other) issues?”

To find a Senate roll call, you can search for the specific bill (by topic or number) and obtain links to the recorded votes on the bill’s page, or you can search the journal for the day of the vote.

To find a House roll call, you need to obtain the number of the roll call vote first. You can do that by either searching for the bill or by reading the day’s journal. Once you have the number, you can directly search for the roll call here.

To even begin, you need either a bill number of a date (sometimes, but not always, a keyword search will work), something most people will not have immediately on hand.

6.What about bills that never receive a vote at all?

MOST legislation does not get a vote, whether voice or roll call. And, importantly, decisions about what makes it to the floor are among the most important in establishing the Agenda of the chamber for that session.

What makes it to the floor is largely a reflection of the will of Leadership in the respective Chambers (House and Senate). Leadership includes, in the House, the very powerful Speaker of the House and the Chairs of committees. In the Senate, it is the Senate President.

So, it’s quite possible that excellent progressive policy gets stalled in committees.

Given the importance of the decisions made in committee, a savvy voter might ask, “How can I find out how my Legislators voted within the committee?” However, recorded votes are rare in committee as well, and the Legislature is exempt from public records law.

7. How do amendment votes factor into the scorecard?

Understanding the distinction between votes on amendments and votes on a final bill is important in assessing Beacon Hill members’ records.

A bill goes into committee at the beginning of the session, and either it is trapped there to die until the next session (where it might be reintroduced -- or not), or it is released -- with changes to its content according to the wisdoms of the committee. A bill rarely will reach the floor in the original form in which it was introduced.

Given that the outcome of a bill is largely determined well before it reaches the floor, adding amendments to a bill that does make it to the floor is one way to affect what policy gets passed.

This is why, in a context where (we argue) generally more conservative legislation is favored by the Legislature, amendments are an important avenue for making a bill more progressive -- or beating back efforts to make it less so -- and, therefore, sites from which to take the measure of legislators’ stances when push comes to shove on a bill’s progressive (or not) pivot point.

Unfortunately, the tracking of amendments, and retention of the context in which they are introduced during a debate, requires an investment into the minutiae of legislation that is not realistic for even a savvy and plugged-in citizen.

8. How do you choose which votes end up in the scorecard?

To make a progressive scorecard from legislators’ votes, then, we are limited to the votes that were roll called (a minority of total votes), and from these, those votes that are relevant to our priorities as progressives (a smaller pool still).

Among this limited pool of roll calls, we prioritize inclusion of votes that were more contentious or consequential, and those amendments that could have substantially improved (or weakened) results of a final bill. In some cases, we chose to score an amendment rather than the final vote on passage because the amendment vote better illustrated members’ priorities and progressive credentials.

Overall, we focus on bills that advance the various planks of our Progressive Platform.

9. How do I interpret the Scorecard?

9a. The “Progressive Position”

For every roll call we include in our scorecard, we articulate the “progressive position.” On our tally, a “plus” sign means the elected official voted with the progressive position. A “minus” sign means they voted against the progressive position.

On the the Scorecard WebApp, the progressive position is coded “blue”; a vote coded red means a vote against the progressive position.

9b. “NV”, “N/A” and “NVP”

  1. “NV” means the elected official was not voting, i.e., s/he was absent for the vote.
  2. “N/A” means the vote was not applicable for that elected official, e.g., that official had resigned from his/her seat or had not yet been elected.
  3. “NVP means the elected official voted present, i.e., an abstention.

Since showing up is an essential part of legislators’ jobs, “NV” is treated the same as a vote against the progressive position. An “NVP” is as well. In both cases, a legislator could have voted the progressive way but did not.

190th session update: If legislators were not present for a vote but submitted a letter to the Clerk about how they would have voted, we recorded the intended vote in the scorecard. Relevant references here are available upon request.

9c. Did your Legislator miss votes? Find out why.

While there may be extenuating circumstances that necessitated your legislator’s absence (parental leave, unexpected military deployment, personal or family emergencies or illness), we leave it to your legislators to convey these to you and other constituents. We encourage you to make inquiries and conclude for yourself as to the legitimacy of the reason. Consider also asking how they would have voted had they been present. Such inquiries help convey that progressives are paying attention, which is always a useful reminder.

9d. What a score is and isn't

Scorecards provide useful data points and evaluative lenses. They inform you about where a legislator stands on key issues -- when those issues have come up for a vote. And they show how legislators compare to each other.

A scorecard can't account for what goes on behind the scenes and how legislators championed or fought bills or amendments before they came to that vote.

But recorded votes matter. They are how legislators provide receipts of their professed principles, and scorecards provide engaged citizens with an understanding of what's happening at the Legislature--and how they (YOU) can change it.

Want more texture? Check out blogs like Blue Mass Group, your local news sites, and the #mapoli hashtag.

9e. Comparing scores across chambers

Think back to school. If you were in the same class and took the same test, then your grades would be directly comparable to those of your classmates. You faced the same questions. If another class had a different test (but on a lot of the same material), your grade may not be directly comparable. If you excelled on one, you'd likely excel on the other. If you totally flunked one, you'd probably flunk the other. And the rank ordering would likely hold up pretty well. When it comes to comparing votes across chambers, those basic principles still apply.

10. My representative/senator is very progressive but didn’t score well. Why is that?

There are a few reasonable possibilities to consider -- and we encourage you to explore them, including by talking with your legislator.

Your representative/senator may talk a better progressive game than s/he votes. That is not uncommon! Understanding the gap between rhetoric and record is an important first step in pushing for change.

There are other factors that may be at play, too. For example, your representative/senator may support many progressive bills that have not gotten a vote or may have been absent for a number of important votes. Or your legislator may have been absent for a number of votes where s/he would have sided with the progressive position.

There is always room for interpretation and context, and we invite you to dig deeper into all of the votes we score, including contacting your legislators to get their perspectives.

11. For the House of Representatives, why is the Speaker’s progressive rating  the point of reference instead of the Democratic average?

In the MA House of Representatives, the Speaker is very powerful, and his (or her) agenda largely determines what policies are passed. Whether it is a good system or not is debatable (when the Speaker is progressive, it means progressive legislation will pass. When the Speaker is not, it means progressive legislation is likely to be watered down significantly).

But it’s important to understand that individual Legislators in the House (the Democrats, at least) have very much bought into this system, and generally vote accordingly. They are not obligated to, however.

Because members tend to follow the Speaker, knowing how they vary from -- or vote in lockstep with -- the Speaker helps you to parse your legislator’s positions.

You should ask her/him questions. Why is their vote record so similar to his (if it is)? Is your district more conservative than not? Is it more liberal than Winthrop? Keep asking questions, listen to the answers; share them with us!

12. Why do some scores say “Not enough votes to score”?

12a. Partial Terms in Office

Because members can retire, resign, take a different elected or unelected office, or (RIP) pass away during the legislative session, there will inevitably be special elections.

Legislators who win a special election occurring late in the session will not have voted on all of the same bills as their new peers.

If a legislator was not present for at least half of the votes we scored, chose not to score them. (See more on legislators missing votes we score, elsewhere on the FAQ)

12b. Special Case: Senate President

The Senate President participates in some votes but not others, despite always being present. In the 189th legislative session, then-Senate President Stan Rosenberg participated in fewer than half of the recorded votes we chose to score, so we chose not to give a final score.

12b. Special Case: High Absence Rate

If a senator or representative was absent for a majority of the votes taken, we would choose not to score them. An example from the 190th session is Rep. Jen Benson of Lunenburg, who was at the Bonn Climate Conference during the Criminal Justice Reform bill votes.

13. Why do some scores say “Missing some recorded votes”?

This indicates that a legislator was not present (either NV or n/a) for anywhere between 10 and 50% of the scored votes.

In some cases, this refers to a legislator who was elected mid-term. We felt we had enough votes on which to base a score but acknowledged that a score for part of the session is not directly comparable to one for the full session.

In other cases, this refers to a legislator who was absent for a several of the votes we chose to score. Since absences count against legislators, this could debase their score relative to what it would have been otherwise.

However, as noted elsewhere on these FAQ, showing up is still their job. We encourage you to ask your Legislators about any missing votes!

14. Can you put up a running tabulation of votes progressives would care about?

Theoretically, yes. However, that would take a lot of work. It’s certainly an aspiration!  

You can help make that aspiration a reality by donating time, skills, and/or money, and spreading the word to those who can do the same!

Check in on these links at our website, progressivemass.com:

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