Conscience vote

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(Redirected from Free vote)

A conscience vote or free vote is a type of vote in a legislative body where legislators are each expected to vote according to their own personal conscience rather than according to an official line set down by their political party.

In many liberal democracies, particularly those that follow the parliamentary system of government, the elected members of a legislative body are usually required to vote in single party blocs; that is, they must conform with the opinion of the official position of the political party as a whole. Sometimes a particular party member known as the whip is responsible for ensuring that members vote in accordance with the party line. Those members who do not may face disciplinary measures, including expulsion or suspension from their respective parties. However, these conventions are disregarded during a conscience vote, as there is no official party line to follow. In countries where party discipline is less important, and voting against one's party is more common, conscience votes are generally less important.

Conscience votes are usually quite rare and are often about an issue which is very contentious, or a matter on which the members of any single party differ in their opinions, thus making it difficult for parties to formulate official policies . Usually, a conscience vote will be about moral or ethical issues rather than about administrative or financial ones; matters such as the prohibition of alcohol, homosexual law reform and the legality of prostitution are often subject to conscience votes. In the British House of Commons there used to be a free vote (this, rather than "conscience vote", is the usual term in Britain) every few years on the restoration of the death penalty, abolished in 1964 (except for treason, for which it was abolished in the late 1990s), which was always rejected; this practice has now been abandoned. The proposed bans on hunting with dogs proposed by Tony Blair's government were the subject of several free votes in Parliament from 2001; on each occasion the Commons voted for a ban and the House of Lords rejected it. In 2004 the government, trying to placate the Lords and other opponents of a ban, proposed only restriction and licensing of hunting, but anti-hunting MPs (mostly Labour backbenchers) forced through an amendment which would effect a total ban; seconds after the (also free) vote on the amendment, Alun Michael and the government finally bowed to pressure and agreed to force through the ban through the Lords under the Parliament Act. It passed in November 2004.

Global use of the conscience vote

Free votes are found in some British legislative bodies, conscience votes in Australian legislative bodies. In the United States, the conscience vote is mostly unknown. Local governments (who are most likely to pass ordinances governing public decency) generally do not have political parties, and in the decentralized American system of government, basic moral behavior is generally considered to be outside the purview of the Federal and State governments to legislate. Paradoxically, many US parties at the Federal and State level actually do have a party line regarding issues such as abortion and the death penalty, this despite the Constitution's explicit stipulation that powers not explicitly granted in the constitution (such as the power to create decency statutes) are left to the states, or the people themselves to decide.

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