9 Investigates lawmaker accountability

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ORLANDO, Fla. - With big decisions hanging in the balance, votes on the floor of Florida's State Senate look like democracy at work, but those appearances can sometimes be deceiving.

In case after case, 9 Investigates watched lawmakers voting for themselves, their absent neighbors and even other absent senators several seats away.

In one instance, 9 Investigates saw three senators cast six different votes in a matter of seconds -- and they aren't breaking any rules.

"These legislators should be embarrassed and ashamed," said Mike Cantone of CountyWatch. "This is not the first time it looks like they're operating a three-ring circus in Tallahassee."

That's because 9 Investigates first exposed the same practice two years ago, and we found it still happening this month.

In some cases, our cameras captured one lawmaker rushing from desk to desk, casting votes for absent members.

In other cases, 9 Investigates simply saw a phantom hand sneaking in a vote.

This so-called Tallahassee Shuffle makes it nearly impossible to know for certain who cast what vote on ethics reform, Medicaid expansion and texting while driving.

"How can there be accountability in a system like this?" asked investigative reporter George Spencer.

"Easily, particularly in the Senate. There are only 40 members," said Sen. David Simmons, a Central Florida area state senator.

Simmons said those 40 members follow this rule: "No senator shall cast a vote for another senator unless the senator is present in the chamber area and requests the casting of said vote."

With just 60 days a session and constant negotiations, Simmons said the process would grind to a halt without this flexibility.

"If we didn't have that kind of system, I can assure you that there would be a lot fewer bills passed," he said.

Similar voting rules apply to the 120-member House of Representatives. On a few occasions, legislators have claimed this system resulted in an incorrect vote.

But Spencer called around and could not find any legislator who thinks this voting process needs to be changed.