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'Ghost voting' a practice Pennsy shouldn't tolerate

April 01, 2004

On March 21, Pennsylvania Rep. William Rieger was at his home in Philadelphia, yet he cast a vote that day in the state capital.

How did he do it? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rieger admitted rigging his machine to vote "yes" by jamming a paper wad into it.

We agree with Common Cause of Pennsylvania that such conduct, known as "ghost voting," should not be tolerated. Lawmakers are paid to cast those votes, not to figure out ways to avoid their sworn duty and still get paid.

In this case, Rieger not only got paid, but received a $126 per diem for his food and lodging. He's since returned the cash, saying his secretary had made an error in applying for it.

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We haven't heard from the secretary and don't expect to. One of those "other duties as assigned" in a secretary's job description is to provide political cover when the boss needs it.

But covering up for members who do such things shouldn't be one of the House Ethics Committee's duties.

Ironically, Rieger is on the ethics panel and the panel's chairman, Rep. Thomas Stevenson, said that the first order of business will be to replace him because it would be "a conflict of interest for him to sit and listen to complaints against him."

Having Rieger there wouldn't bother us a great deal if the deliberations were open to the public. But no details will be released, unless the committee makes a report recommending penalties to the full House.

Incredibly, some members defend the practice, in part because there are so many things that must be voted on. What's the harm, they say, provided the absent member is at another meeting in the state capital and not at home mowing the lawn.

That's not good enough. Pennsylvania lawmakers are well-paid for what they do and showing up to vote is Job No. 1.

Are there too many bills and resolutions? Probably, but those lawmakers who are overwhelmed by the press of business should resign and let someone else take a turn.

We believe the legislature should define ghost voting as an unethical act, then institute meaningful penalties. The threatened loss of 10 days' per diem payments would send a strong message to those tempted to use a paper wad to avoid doing the job they were elected to do.

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