AUSTIN (KXAN) - The matter of one Texas House member reaching across the desk and casting vote on behalf of a colleague was such a problem that the chamber's leaders shelled out nearly $130,000 to help remedy it.
That was 2008.
Now, House leaders say that the longstanding but controversial practice of "ghost voting" is not really a problem at all. And the expensive, custom-made and never-used equipment that was purchased to prevent it is locked away in a storage room a few hundreds yards from the Capitol.
That leaves state lawmakers -- past and present -- playing the blame game on why that much taxpayer money was spent on something they never used.
Fingerprint voting scanners were meant to make voting in the Texas House a little easier. In November 2008, 10 of the machines were placed in various locations on the House floor
"I thought it was a good idea to have a way of voting from around the floor," said Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin.
"If there were a station, that would probably be helpful," said Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.
Two months after their installation, the $128,000 devices disappeared. Current House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said they were unnecessary.
So why have them in the first place?
"Often, I've found that I've been voted wrong when I'm just diagonally across the room, so then I have to go make sure my vote got changed," Eissler said.
A KXAN examination of the 2011 regular session's House journals shows that there were nearly 1,700 miscast votes. Members said sometimes it happens because of ghost voting.
"It's not uncommon, and it's a courtesy that we all do for each other," Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston.
"If we weren't allowed to do it, our participation, I think, would hurt tremendously," said Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.
Rules allow ghost-voting
House rules say, as long as a member has another member's permission, it's all right for another member to cast a vote for that person, like when one is standing across the chamber away from his or her desk.
"When 6,000 bills get filed, 1,300 bills get passed in a five-month period, and sometimes you spend as much as 14 hours a day on this floor, being tethered to your desk for purposes of voting is a little bit limiting," said Strama.
"I may go away or go to the restroom or go to my office for a second, and I'll wave at him, and he'll vote for me," said Callegari of one example.
They're putting their trust on the decisions behind the bills that affect their constituents in other members' hands.
"The worst thing you can do is vote somebody different from what they wanted to vote," said Callegari. "If they ask you to vote yes for me, and you vote no, obviously that's not a good thing. So nobody wants to do that."
Ghost voting really came under media fire between legislative sessions in 2008. So the House Administration Committee back then decided to test out something to ease the scrutiny.
The fingerprint scanners would allow members who are away from their desks to cast their votes, but they never got the chance to use them.
Video made before they were locked away
Video taken by KXAN two months before the 2009 legislative session shows the machines on the House floor. The House Business Office said staff members took them out soon after to make space for the crowded ceremony when lawmakers returned.
"Since we bought them, I have no idea why we're not using them," said Strama.
Here's where people start pointing fingers.
"I was not the chair of House Administration at the time, and Speaker Straus was not the speaker at the time, so I can't answer that question either," Geren said.
Both Geren and Straus's offices told KXAN to ask the previous speaker, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and the previous House Administration Chair Tony Goolsby. Craddick was unavailable for comment. Goolsby, who didn't want to talk, lost re-election, and the machines disappeared soon after.
As for why the machines are gone, Geren said, "They're not practical, and there's no need for them."
When pressed as to there whereabouts, Geren directed KXAN to a building a block away from the Capitol.
"They're on the fifth floor of the Reagan Building," he said. "Well, they were put in storage. It was decided we don't need them."
A public information request revealed there's no documentation detailing whose decision it was to put them there -- behind locked doors, where we weren't allowed to go.
"I hope that they send them back and get our money back or some of our money," Geren added.
But that's not an option. The companies that made the scanners and their cabinetry said they're custom-built, and they can't take them back. Some members find all of this puzzling.
"I wasn't aware that money had actually been spent to actually purchase any of these types of devices," said Rep. John Zerwas, R-Houston.
Added Eissler: "I think that could be under the category of wasted money."
Geren said, after more than two years, he's not sure the machines taxpayers paid for still work.
The House Business
Office said the machines did work in the beginning. At least 25 staff members tested them out.
For now though, there's no plan to bring them back.
UT President Bill Powers may finally learn whether he'll continue to run one of the nation's largest campuses.
Thousands of senior citizens in Central Texas go without holiday gifts. Now a donation drive needs the public's help to collect more and help wrap them.
The judge presiding over the trial to oust District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg ruled Wednesday that she'll stay in office.
Mack Brown’s longtime friend and attorney said Wednesday that the veteran coach of the Longhorns has not yet made a decision on his future, but that it will come soon.
Options for high speed Internet in Austin continue to expand. Google Fiber is coming to Austin soon, and now AT&T has announced the city will be the first for its own faster-than-ever Internet speeds.
As reports swirl about the future of Mack Brown, one thing is certain: Brown has presided over a vast expansion in the value of Longhorns football.