Yea or nay?

"Where can I find my congressman's voting record?" It's one of the questions frequently e-mailed to the Library of Congress' legislative Web site, "Thomas."

The short answer is that Thomas does not compile votes by members of Congress.

However, it is possible to use information on Thomas (thomas.loc.gov) to compile a partial voting record if you have patience and some knowledge of the legislation you're interested in.

Start by compiling a list of relevant bills. For example, if you want to know how your congressional representative has voted on environmental issues, make a list of germane bills. Do that by searching through Thomas' "Bill Summary and Status" or "Bill Text."

Next, call up each bill. If you do this through the "Bill Summary and Status" feature, you can click on "Bill Status" to see how representatives or senators voted. Many bills don't make it to a vote, but for those that do, Thomas will list each representative's or senator's vote. Repeat this process for each relevant bill.

Another but more difficult way is to search through the Congressional Record online (available through www.access.gpo.gov or through the Thomas site). Search by the bill's roll call number if you know it. If not, search by word or phrase, and be prepared to spend a lot of time searching.

Thomas contains legislation dating to 1995. The Congressional Record's online archives go back to 1993. To research voting records before that, you'll need access to paper documents. Even with those, your record will be incomplete because many matters before Congress are resolved with voice votes that are not recorded.

The process is so daunting that the Library of Congress recommends leaving it to professionals; the library's site provides links to organizations that compile voting records (lcweb.loc.gov/global/legislative/voting.html). They include publishing companies such as Congressional Quarterly and Congressional Observer, and interest groups such as the American Conservative Union and American Civil Liberties Union.

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