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A switch in time 

On Aug. 24, State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) joined Bill Berryhill (R-Ceres) as the only GOP members of the California Assembly to vote in support of establishing a voluntary tax contribution to fund the provision of school supplies for homeless children. Interestingly, Achadjian cast his vote earlier in the day against the very same bill, which easily moved on to the Senate floor.

The swap was made possible by a little-known but long-standing Assembly rule allowing legislators to change their vote or cast it late with little formal process. According to a tally released by the Sacramento bureau of the Associated Press on Oct. 24, members of the 80-person California Assembly changed or cast late votes more than 5,000 times in the first eight months of 2012 alone.

“I just needed more questions answered, otherwise I was going to say no,” Achadjian explained. “If I don’t have all the info, I go after it.”

The 234-page spreadsheet lends credibility to critics of the rule, who claim it gives lawmakers license to delay tough choices between the will of the party and their constituency until no real dilemma remains. Cal Poly political science professor Allen Settle added that the permissive practice also allows Assembly members who argued against a failed position to hide their tracks.

 “It’s like students taking a midterm saying, ‘I need to come up and change some of my answers,’” he said. “I’m disappointed with people like Katcho.”

The AP spreadsheet shows Achadjian changed his vote on one other occasion in 2012—similarly abandoning party opposition to a Democratic bill dealing with state land acquisition for firefighting facilities—and cast a late vote 50 times over the same period. Some members of the Assembly, including Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), changed or added a vote literally hundreds of times between January and August.

“Some people vote with the party rubber stamp, but my record doesn’t indicate that I do,” said Achadjian, who pointed to his relatively low-voting scorecard rating by the Republican caucus.

Assembly rules permit a member to change a vote an unlimited number of times as long as it doesn’t affect passage of the bill. The California Senate, in contrast, only allows senators to change their votes with approval of party leadership.

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