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Getting information about votes in the United States Congress is generally very easy. The records of Congressional votes are considered public information, which means that they are readily accessible to anyone who wishes to view them, ranging from curious civics students to people overseas who want to follow American politics. Congressional votes can be used to research political candidates, get information about legislative trends, and to examine issues of importance, both current and historical.
Complete voting records for the current sessions of the House and Senate are available on their respective websites at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. These voting records include a history of revisions to any piece of legislature introduced, starting with when the bill was introduced and who sponsored it, and ending with the final form of the bill. Roll call records maintained at these sites also show who was present, who voted, and how they voted. The Senate and the House also maintain some historical records on their sites, along with information about Committees and individual representatives who are currently serving.
Another excellent resource for information about Congressional votes is THOMAS, a site maintained by the Library of Congress at thomas.loc.gov. THOMAS allows users to search a database of House records, Senate records, or both, which can sometimes be interesting for people who want to compare House and Senate versions of the same bill. The THOMAS records also include revision history and roll calls.
There are a wide range of reasons to keep up on Congressional votes. Some Americans are surprised to learn how active Congress is, since only major legislation is reported on in the news. When Congress is in session, numerous issues may be considered on any given day, and the process of following a bill as it is introduced, referred to committee, and then re-introduced can be very interesting, and sometimes very revealing as well. For example, some bills get referred to committee and then die, never to be seen again, while others come back with revisions so substantial that the entire content of the bill has changed.
When researching political candidates, it can also be very beneficial to look up Congressional votes. Roll call data can reveal whether or not a candidate stands behind the views he or she promotes on the campaign trail, for example, and it can also show how often the candidate actually showed up for work. THOMAS allows users to browse bills by sponsor, if you're curious about which legislation a specific Senator or Representative has introduced.
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