Viva Voce: Implications from the Disappearing Voice Vote, 1865–1996


  • The authors will share data and coding with anyone interested in replicating this study. The authors thank Scott H. Ainsworth, Jamie L. Carson, Michael Crespin, Brian F. Crisp, Matthew Gabel, Burdett A. Loomis, Jason M. Roberts, Steven S. Smith, participants of the 2008 History of Congress Conference, and the University of North Carolina American Politics Group for helpful comments and suggestions. Lynch thanks the Kansas University New Faculty General Research Fund Grant for financial support of this research.

Direct correspondence to Anthony J. Madonna, Department of Political Science, University of Georgia, 104 Baldwin Hall, Athens, GA 30603-1615 〈〉.



Congressional votes are only recorded if a member formally requests a roll call vote, and that request is supported by one-fifth of those present. Many votes pass viva voce and are never recorded. We seek to examine changing patterns of unrecorded voting, analyze the causes of these changes, and consider the implications of these changes for congressional scholars.


Using landmark legislation from the 39th (1865–1867) to the 104th Congress (1995–1996), we analyze whether bills receive a recorded or unrecorded final passage vote.


We find that while the likelihood that a landmark law receives a recorded final passage vote fluctuates over time, electoral pressures consistently influence members’ decisions to record their votes.


We argue that studies of Congress must account for the roll call generating process when analyzing roll call data.