Government & Politics

Bernie Sanders: Slightly less present than the average senator

[B]ernie Sanders ranks from about average to just a little bit truant when it comes to showing up for work.

Bernie Sanders stock photo from a press conference October 9, 2013. (Flickr/AFGE.)

Bernie Sanders stock photo from a press conference October 9, 2013. (Flickr/AFGE.)

The Green Mountain State’s junior senator had a high attendance record until he began testing the waters for a presidential run last November.

GovTrack reports that Sanders has missed 2.9 percent of all Senate votes he’s been eligible to vote on since he entered office in 2007. GovTrack is an open data website that makes congressional activity more accessible to the public.

Nearly half of Sanders' absences, 39, took place over the past year.

In all, the senator has missed 80 votes out of 2,726 from the time he entered office in 2007 to date of this year, "worse than the median" of all lifetime records of senators now serving, the site says.

“If you look at other presidential candidates, this is typical and always has been as far back as I can remember,” said Joshua Tauberer, the founder of GovTrack.

At a nearly 3 percent missed vote rate on average, Sanders is among the more likely to be absent in the Senate, compared to the median proportion of 1.6 percent of votes that are missed by the 100 senators. Of the 11 senators who entered office in 2007, Sanders ranks second-highest in number of missed votes, second only to Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Another five occurred in April 2014, a month in which Sanders wrote a number of editorials for local publications, held a Town Hall meeting in New Hampshire, was featured on Democracy Now!, an alternative news broadcast, speaking against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, collected comments supporting net neutrality on his website, and worked with a political action committee to purchase the domain, which had been bought by a huge fan, a former Vermonter, who mainly wanted to meet the senator in exchange for the URL.

But what does his attendance record really say? Well, something most folks already know about Sanders – that he’s politically ambitious.

Most politicians who are engaging in any kind of campaign while sitting in office will have a higher-than-average absentee record. In a lifetime votes-missed tally reported by National Journal last year, the magazine noted that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had one of the highest-votes-missed percentages on GovTrack, and that included his 2008 run for president. (He was in the top 10, missing 10.5 percent of all votes.)

Among senators who entered office in 2007, Bernie Sanders is the second-most absent, a website shows. (Data compiled by VTDigger using GovTrack.)

Among senators who entered office in 2007, Bernie Sanders is the second-most absent, a website shows. (Data compiled by VTDigger using GovTrack.)

Similarly, illness can also negatively impact attendance, as in the case of Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who missed 7.2 percent of votes after suffering a brain hemorrhage in 2006.

In late 2014, when Sanders missed 32 votes over November and December, more than a third of the total over the past eight years, most were on Monday votes on district judge nominations. He missed a Monday, Nov. 17 vote for example. That night he was a guest on “The Colbert Report,” where he promised to “frighten the billionaire class” if he decided to run for president.

The next day he was back in his seat for a vote on the controversial Keystone pipeline. (He voted “nay.”)

In a complete ranking of all the 100 senators in office, Sanders sits at number 74 – but as Tauberer said, given the disparities in lengths of service from senator to senator, using the median percentage of votes is a fairer way to gauge absences.

Compared with other 2016 presidential candidates, he's doing far better. He's one step above GOP candidate Rand Paul, R-Ky., who sits at slot 75, and puts to shame the records of other senators with presidential aspirations – Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., in spot 92, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., #97, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who ranks second-to-last at 99.

Most of the Vermont candidate’s big disappearances were on days with low-stakes votes, VTDigger found in a cursory review of the past 8 years in which Sanders has been in office. Even Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has a higher misses-to-vote ratio, at 3.6 percent.

If a citizen were concerned about Sanders’ stance – or presence – during a particularly important vote to them, all they have to do is visit Tauberer’s site or (or for the House, the clerk’s page.)

As Tauberer noted 10 years ago when he started GovTrack “with the goal of using new technology to make tracking Congress easier and more informative for regular Americans," the hardest part of the government-run sites is figuring out how to find the bill or candidate you want.

GovTrack is now used by more than 7 million individuals a year, Tauberer said, who range from concerned voters and students to professional journalists and “even congressional staff.”

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Jess Wisloski

About Jess

Jess Wisloski (Martin) is a freelance reporter and editor at VTDigger.
Previously she worked as the Weekends Editor for New York City's groundbreaking news site,, and prior to that was the New York City editor for Yahoo!, managing homepage news, rolling out new online experiences, and writing features. Jess graduated from New York University, cut her journalistic teeth at area weeklies, including working under the tutelage of Wayne Barrett at The Village Voice.
Her first long-term job was as a staff writer for the NY Daily News in 2005, where she reported on land use, business and schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. She now lives in Essex Junction with her family.


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