Most of the time, members of the House and Senate vote in the affirmative or negative on whatever proposal is before their chamber on a given day. It's a pretty simple system, although one that gets unnecessarily complicated by a variety of rules and procedures, some of which are actually hindrances to governing. Recently, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez used one of those procedures, voting present on a proposal in the House.
What does it mean to vote present?
Voting present on a piece of legislation means that you are not casting your vote either for or against the bill. Instead, you are simply acknowledging that you were present for the vote and are not contributing either to its passage or failure. Voting present does allow your attendance to be recorded for the record, which helps the House achieve a quorum, or the required number of members for business to be done in the chamber.
Usually, voting present is done for some political reason or because the member who voted present has a conflict of interest with the issue under discussion. The tactic happens fairly frequently, and members don't always explain their reasoning for taking the vote before or after doing so, which has led some to wonder why AOC voted present on a recent bill.
Why did AOC vote present?
AOC voted present on the Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act, which will provide Israel with an additional $1 billion for its missile defense system, which is known as the Iron Dome. According to House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rose DeLauro, the bill is designed to ensure "Israel can fully defend all its citizens." She also added that the legislation "furthers the cause of peace."
The bill was passed overwhelmingly through the House by a vote of 420-9, and will now move to the Senate. AOC was initially going to vote "no" on the bill, but eventually changed her vote to present. The other members of the squad, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, all voted no on the bill. AOC has not yet offered an explanation as to why she voted present.
Although AOC has yet to explain the change to her vote, many suspect that she made the decision in order to improve her political future. "AOC's 'present' may be the most concrete sign so far of her Senate ambitions," one observer wrote on Twitter, suggesting that she had voted present so that the vote could not be held over her head in some future campaign for higher office.
Reports also suggest that, after taking the vote, AOC got emotional on the House floor. There's been no indication as to why she got emotional, and no word on whether it might be connected to her changed vote.
Some observers believe that AOC changed her vote for political reasons, but others were perplexed by the decision. The bill was going to pass either way, and she's been quite clear about where she stands on Israel in the past. At this moment, it's difficult to say whether we'll ever know exactly why she decided to vote present.