Has a Vice-President ever voted "Nay"?

We all know that the Veep casts the tiebreaking vote in the Senate, but I heard that the VP has never voted against a bill. The way I heard it was that if he wants to have the bill pass, he votes affirmative, but if he does not want it to pass, then by tradition he does not vote and the motion fails 46-46 (or whatever the tie is).

  1. Does this tradition really exist?
  2. If so, has there never been a case of a VP casting a negative vote if for no other reason than to make a point?

This site might be useful:


It looks like on August 7, 1986, Vice President Bush voted No to defeat an amendment by Senator Pryor that would have limited military production of nerve gasses.

Yes. John C. Calhoun arranged matters so that the vote confirming Martin Van Buren as Ambassador to the UK would end in a tie, and cast the deciding vote against him. Calhoun did not get along with either Van Buren or President Andrew Jackson.

From what I understand, it would be quicker to list the people John C. did get along with.

Native Sandlapper

Well, he had ten kids, so it sounds like he and his wife got along.

I won’t contest the other cites, but as a matter of general parliamentary procedure, the presiding officer does not cast a ballot when her vote would not affect the outcome. Motions that require the support of more than one-half of those voting in the presence of a quorum fail upon a tied vote; thus a presiding officer does not need to vote no to defeat a measure, she merely lets the vote stand as is (similarly, if the affirmative has one more vote than the negative, she can vote no to create a tie and defeat the measure). This is to preserve, to as great extent as possible, the perceived neutrality of the presiding officer. (RONR, 10th ed., pgs 392-93)

I don’t think the US vice-president even gets the opportunity to vote on bills unless the Senate has had a tie vote. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong, of course.)

Then again, if it’s not a tie, there’s no point in him voting. Assuming all Senators vote on all bills (I know that’s not actually true, but probably close to true for most important ones), it would make no difference at all to the outcome if you let the Veep’s vote always count.

In olden times, when VP’s presided over the Senate as a matter of course, they frequently cast “no” votes, sometimes in opposition to administration policy. (Before presidents hand picked their running mates, the two often didn’t get along.) Even then, of course, a “no” vote had no real effect, since the motion would fail anyway, but if the VP was sitting in the chair and the clerk called his name to break a tie, why not vote?

Nowadays, the majority leader has taken over the substantive aspects of Senate governance, and serving as presiding officer has become perfunctory. The VP has to make a special effort to show up, so there is no reason to do so unless a tie vote is expected on a measure the administration wants to pass. There’s no real tradition against casting a “no” vote, just little reason to show up in order to do so.

I think this is mostly correct. If you are super-curious, the Senate’s rules are available online somewhere on www.senate.gov. Unlike the general parliamentary situation where the presiding officer is also a member of the presided-over body, the Vice President is not a member of the Senate (pace Governor Palin). I think you err above in failing to account for the Veep’s power to create a tie and defeat a measure. Finally, where I said “cast a ballot” above, I should have said “vote publicly.” Preserving neutrality requires the presiding officer to refrain from voting publicly where it will not affect the outcome; however, this concern is not implicated with secret ballots, and a presiding officer is permitted to vote without limitation in this circumstance.

In Allen Drury’s Pulitzer-winning 1959 political novel Advise and Consent (spoilered for those who haven’t yet read this excellent but now dated book),

the Vice President casts the deciding vote against the President’s controversial, maybe-Commie, Alger Hiss-like nominee for Secretary of State, in part because he’s just learned of the President’s death and wants to pick his own man, a good-guy U.S. senator, for the job.

I’ve thought about this too and found it kind of funny. If a decision is nay by one vote then every nay is the “tie-breaking” vote - not just the last one cast. And if the decision is by more than one vote, every vote is superfluous.

I also think about this when states move their primaries earlier and earlier to have “more of a say” in national elections. Maybe they should move them back so they can all be “tie-breakers”.