The closest votes in the 2013 Legislature

Most votes in the Utah Legislature pass with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

It has long been tradition that floor votes in the Utah Legislature pass with overwhelming majorities taking the same side. Democrats and Republicans alike tend to get behind the same bills. That being said, there were a few very close votes in the 2013 Legislature.

Consensus voting

Let’s start by looking at the general trend: Consensus voting. Divisive bills tend to be heavily watered down before the reach the floor. By the time a bill actually comes to a floor vote, lawmakers often have little reason to oppose it.

Brian Greene’s HB 114 is a great example. As introduced, it would have made it a crime for federal law enforcement officers to enforce federal firearms laws within Utah. Paradoxically, it would also have required the Attorney General to provide defense counsel for any federal law enforcement officers so charged, even though the AG’s office would also be supervising the prosecution. By the time it reached the House floor, those provisions had been replaced with milder language that merely “affirmed” the state’s dominance in regulated firearms. As a result, it passed through the House 49-17-9. Although that’s a narrower vote margin than is typical in the House, it’s hard to imagine the bill receiving nearly as many votes in its original form.

Most bills start out less provocative than HB 114. By the time they’ve been amended in committee, they reach the floor looking relatively mild. As such, most votes in the Utah Legislature pass with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

Take a look at the chart below. It shows the average percentage of legislators who vote on the winning side, by chamber. From 2007 to 2013, the House has typically seen an average between 92 and 94%; the Senate has seen averages between 95 and 96%.

Average percentage of legislators who vote on the winning side, by chamber

Average percentage of legislators who vote on the winning side, by chamber

Democrats controlled 17% of the Senate and 19% of the House in 2013. In most of the preceding years, they controlled 20-something percent of the seats. If most Democrats weren’t joining the majority, then the high averages reported in the chart above wouldn’t be possible. A “party-line vote” occurs when the majority of Democrats votes against the majority of Republicans. Party-line votes are rare in the Utah Legislature, as you can see in the following chart. It depicts the percentage of votes that were party-line votes in each chamber, year-by-year. In 2013, only 11.7% of House votes were decided along party lines (roughly average since 2007), while only 5.5% of Senate votes were decided along party lines (tying 2007 for the lowest rate seen since 2007).

Frequency of party-line votes, by chamber

Frequency of party-line votes, by chamber

Which votes were the closest?

Now that we’ve established that consensus voting is the norm, let’s look at the closest votes from 2013. First we’ll look at the House, then at the Senate. In the tables, you can click on bill names to see the bill’s content, and you can click on the vote margin (ayes-nays-absent) to see which legislators voted each way.

The 20 closest votes in the 2013 Utah House

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
SB0122S01 House/ failed 37-37-1 0
HB0278S01 House/ failed 37-35-3 2
SB0271S03 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-36-1 2
HB0063 House/ failed 35-38-2 3
HB0381 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-35-2 3
SB0082S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-35-2 3
SB0078 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-34-3 4
SB0267 House/ failed 35-39-1 4
HB0038S02 House/ failed 33-38-4 5
HB0278S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-34-2 5
HB0307 House/ failed 34-39-2 5
SB0023S01 House/ failed 33-38-4 5
HB0271S02 House/ failed 33-39-3 6
HB0038S02 House/ failed 32-39-4 7
HB0217S02 House/ floor amendment 40-33-2 7
HB0088S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-32-3 8
HB0246 House/ concurs with Senate amendment 39-31-5 8
HB0274 House/ passed 3rd reading 41-33-1 8
HB0246 House/ passed 3rd reading 41-32-2 9
HB0307 House/ failed 29-38-8 9

The 20 closest votes in the 2013 Utah Senate

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
SB0114 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-14-0 1
HB0103 Senate/ failed 11-13-5 2
SB0085 Senate/ failed 13-15-1 2
SB0267 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-13-1 2
HB0013 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-13-0 3
HB0360 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-12-2 3
SB0112S03 Senate/ failed 14-11-4 3
SB0118 Senate/ failed 14-11-4 3
SB0226 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-12-2 3
SB0081 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 16-12-1 4
SB0110S01 Senate/ failed 12-16-1 4
HB0103 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 17-12-0 5
SB0187S02 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-11-2 5
HB0276 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-10-3 6
SB0052S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 17-11-1 6
SB0271S03 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 16-10-3 6
HB0096S02 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 18-11-0 7
HB0279 Senate/ failed 10-17-2 7
SB0071S01 Senate/ failed 11-18-0 7
SJR003S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 17-10-2 7

Additional data

On my personal website, you can find the closest votes from past years, or you can find additional statistics about floor voting patterns (such as consensus voting and party-line voting).

Possibly related posts:

About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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