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What Is Involved in Congressional Voting?

Laws begin as bills, proposed pieces of legislation that Congress must amend and vote upon.
Both chambers of the U.S. Congress must approve a bill before it heads to the president's desk to be signed into law.
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  • Written By: J.E. Holloway
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2014
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The United States Congress is the branch of government with the power to make laws. These laws begin as bills, proposed pieces of legislation which Congress must amend and vote upon. Congressional voting is therefore the means by which the legislature generates new laws. Congressional voting procedures are simple in their basic form, although there are some complexities. Congress may also vote on issues other than laws, such as whether to pass Congressional resolutions or confirm executive nominees in office.

Both Senators and Representatives can introduce most types of bills, although taxation bills and general appropriations bills always originate in the House. Following introduction, the bill goes to the relevant committee, where members study it and decide whether it should be put forward as legislation. If the committee decides the bill should be made law, it is placed on the calendar for Congressional voting. The chamber assigns a period for debate on the bill; when this is concluded a vote takes place. Not all members of the chamber must be present for the vote, but a minimum, called a quorum, must be.

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There are several different types of Congressional voting. The simplest method is the voice vote, which both House and Senate use to approve routine bills. In a voice vote, members simply cry "yea" or "nay" in response to a question. If this method gives an unclear result, a division vote may result. In this type of vote, each legislator is asked to vote yea or nay to verify the voice vote.

The best-known type of Congressional voting is the roll-call vote, which occurs in both chambers. In a roll-call vote, each Senator or Representative gives his or her vote. The number of votes needed depends on the exact nature of the vote. Most legislation requires a simple majority, but some votes require three-fifths or even two-thirds majorities.

Both chambers of the legislature must approve legislation in the same form before the President can sign it into law. Once a bill has passed one chamber, it therefore goes to the other for voting. The other chamber can propose amendments; the originating chamber can vote to accept them or not. If both chambers pass the bill, it goes to the President, who either signs it, making it law, or vetoes it. In some cases, if the second chamber has a similar bill in committee, it will join the two pieces of legislation.

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