Rhoades Whitehill, the man counting Md.’s votes

Rhoades Whitehill, reading clerk of the Maryland House of Delegates, controls the voting machine. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
FILE -- At the Maryland General Assembly, Rhoades Whitehill will look out from the clerk's dias and call out the reference numbers of the bills and the names of those voting. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
A chart keep track of where lawmakers sit in the Maryland House of Delegates. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – “Shame on you!” shouted one lawmaker as the debate over new gun restrictions wore on in Maryland’s House of Delegates.

Hours of impassioned debate continued, then finally, it was time to take a vote.

Speaker of the House Michael Busch struck the podium with his gavel and boomed, “The clerk — will take — the call!”

When lawmakers want to make their votes count, they wait on one man in the House of Delegates: C. Rhoades Whitehill.

Whitehill is the Reading Clerk, the man who reads off the titles and reference number of every bill that lawmakers consider.

On Monday, the last day of Maryland’s legislative session, his voice will get a workout as lawmakers race to get their bills passed.

Whitehill also controls the voting machine, which is a daunting task.

“With all the different motions, you have to be prepared for anything. There are amendments that can pop up and you have to be ready to put those in,” he says.

Has he ever slipped up?

“Oh yeah, I’ve made mistakes, but we can cancel a vote if we mess up.”

On a day like sine die — a Latin term meaning, roughly, “adjournment” — the lawmaking session goes right up to the last second at midnight.

How does Whitehill keep going on such long days?

“Snacks!” he says.

Does he have a favorite?

“Goldfish, and other little snacks to get you through.”

And when he’s not calling the roll or “taking the call” right before a vote, Whitehill is tooting his own horn.

He’s a trombonist who’s retired from the U.S. Navy Band. He plays around Annapolis as part of the Bayfield Brass Quintet, and he’s active with a range of other bands “too numerous to mention,” he says, laughing.

The action on the floor of the House of Delegates can get pretty heated.

Lawmakers have tackled hot-button issues such as gun control, a gas tax and the repeal of the death penalty.

Does Whitehill ever get caught up in the debates on the floor?

“No. No. I try to be as apolitical as possible. I want to be above the fray because I’m the one taking the vote. Just the process is what interests me.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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