VOTING PARTICIPATION is rising in Congress, and that's a healthy trend. Members of the House and Senate are now arranging to cast their yeas and nays in well over 90 percent, on the average, of the recorded votes taken in their respective chambers.
Western New York's representatives are following the pattern, which is good news for local participation in democracy.
Last year, according to studies by the private, non-partisan Washington research service of Congressional Quarterly, the average participation rate for all members of the House on recorded votes was 94 percent. In the Senate, it was a near-perfect 98 percent.
It wasn't always thus. Only certain members in the past had made a point of being on the floor to vote when the roll was called. The average score in the entire Congress never got past 90 percent until the mid-1970s. Then it slipped back occasionally, rising above 90 percent for good in this decade.
All of Western New York's five House members showed up to vote more than 90 percent of the time last year, in this order: Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, 98 percent; Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, and Henry J. Nowak, D-Buffalo, 97 percent; John J. LaFalce, D-Buffalo, 95 percent and Amo Houghton, R-Corning, 92 percent.
In the Senate, Democrat Daniel P. Moynihan participated in 98 percent of the roll calls and Republican Alfonse M. D'Amato in 99 percent.
A number of reasons have been advanced for Congress's improving voting record. For one thing, fewer official recorded votes have been taken in the last few years. For another, the losses of some incumbents have been blamed in part on criticism of their rate of participation in the voting on Capital Hill.
It should be stressed, of course, that a good quantity of votes does not necessarily assure their quality. Also, truly effective representation includes other factors, such as serving the home district and performing well in committee.
But voting means not ducking issues. It shows attentiveness to the scheduling for official decisions. A vote informs constituents of the position a representative has taken and gives them a share in government.