Michael Caldwell, Byrd’s challenger for the House District 20 seat in the Republican primary, is questioning Byrd’s decisions to change her votes 24 times in the last six out of eight years she’s served in the Georgia General Assembly.
Caldwell, who described Byrd’s decisions as an “abuse of a system that was put in place for a different intention,” said he became interested in the subject when he learned Byrd voted against a measure allowing cities and counties to hold elections on Sunday sales.
The vote was held on April 12, 2011, and the measure passed the house 127-44.
Caldwell took a photo of the board in the Georgia House of Representatives that had the tallies of how members in the lower chamber voted on the issue.
He placed the photo on his Facebook account and soon got a message from Byrd, who informed him she actually voted yes.
Caldwell said he retracted the information he posted, but later began to think about Byrd’s comments.
“I was very interested,” he said. “I had no idea you could change your vote.”
Caldwell said he began to do research and uncovered that Byrd has in fact changed her vote two dozen times.
He noted he hadn’t gone through Byrd’s records during her first two years in office, and said the only person who comes close to Byrd was state Rep. Ralph Long (D-Atlanta) who changed his vote 13 times in the same time frame.
House rules allow members to change their vote, but the rule doesn’t allow for the official vote tally to be changed.
So Byrd’s vote against Sunday sales stands as part of the official tally, even though she later changed it.
Caldwell said he’s concerned because he alleges Byrd has told constituents she supported the measure to allow local jurisdictions to ask residents to consider allowing Sunday sales.
“It’s fairly obvious this is being overused,” he said. “It’s unfortunate and a shame. I’m sad she’s claiming votes that don’t count.”
Byrd doesn’t deny she’s changed her votes, and characterized Caldwell’s assertions an “attack on my voting record.”
She called the matter “much ado about nothing.”
Byrd said she did vote against allowing local authorities to approve Sunday sales, but after she cast her vote, she thought long and hard about her decision.
She said she changed her vote because she thought it would be best if her constituents made the final choice.
“I personally believe when one changes a vote, it is being conscientious — thinking through the issue before and after the vote,” she added.
Byrd noted some elected officials are “hoodwinked” by special interests, as sponsors of the bills are allowed to make changes or amendments to a bill immediately before it comes up for a vote.
She said legislators are often given new copies of the bills and will later find out changes were placed into a bill they would not agree with.
“A lot of legislators don’t want you know the changes,” she said.
Byrd added she will continue to change her votes to match her principles and encouraged Caldwell to focus on the real issues facing Georgia, which she said are “to fight Obamacare especially Medicaid expansion, to stop tax increases, to reduce spending and to support job creators.”
Caldwell said Byrd’s actions are allowed in Georgia House rules, but added he would pledge he would only utilize the rule when it was absolutely necessary.
“I believe your word is everything you have and I’m willing to stand by a decision I make,” he said. “I won’t say I accidentally hit the green button. I won’t claim the second vote as my vote.”
The winner will face Democrat Lillian Burnaman in November.