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U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running for U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running for U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running for U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016.

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin September 2, 2016

Mostly True: Marco Rubio has worst voting record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy wasted no time attacking incumbent Marco Rubio’s voting record after handily winning the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

When Rubio challenged Murphy to six debates, the Jupiter Democrat countered that Rubio was more concerned about a future presidential run than serving in the Senate, something he said is proven by the senator’s record.

"Sen. Rubio has the worst vote attendance record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years," Murphy said in an Aug. 31, 2016, statement.

We’ve already noted that Rubio has had an exceptionally bad voting record among presidential candidates that served in the U.S. Senate, although not necessarily the worst. But where does he stand among Florida senators of years past? We checked the record to see if he had the worst absentee rate in almost half a century.

Rubio’s record

To check this claim, we turned to GovTrack, which keeps a record of votes by members of Congress. Because we’re going back "nearly 50 years," we had to look back to at least 1966.


Years served

Roll call votes missed

Absentee rate

Marco Rubio (R)

Jan. 3, 2011 — present

234 of 1,616 (through July 2016)

14.5 percent

Bill Nelson (D)

Jan. 3, 2001 — present

107 of 4,922 (through July 2016)

2.2 percent

George LeMieux (R)

Sept. 10, 2009 — Jan. 3, 2011

8 of 423

1.9 percent

Mel Martinez (R)

Jan. 3, 2005 — Sept. 9, 2009

53 of 1,574

3.4 percent

Bob Graham (D)

Jan. 3, 1987 — Jan. 3, 2005

201 of 6,222

3.2 percent

Connie Mack III (R)

Jan. 3, 1989 — Jan. 3, 2001

101 of 4,115

2.5 percent

Paula Hawkins (R)

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Jan. 1, 1981 — Jan. 3, 1987

245 of 2,368

10.3 percent

Richard Stone (D)

Jan. 1, 1975 — Dec. 31, 1980

209 of 3,521

5.9 percent

Lawton Chiles (D)

Jan. 3, 1971 — Jan. 3, 1989

769 of 8,781

8.8 percent

Edward Gurney (R)

Jan. 3, 1969 — Dec. 31, 1974

293 of 2,759

10.6 percent

George Smathers (D)

Jan. 3, 1951 — Jan. 3, 1969

847 of 3,585

23.6 percent

Spessard Holland (D)

Sept. 25, 1946 — Jan. 3, 1971

243 of 4,951

4.9 percent

Rubio’s overall absentee rate — the percentage of all the votes he’s missed during his first term — is 14.5 percent.

That’s considerably higher than the 1.7 percent average absentee rate among all senators in the same time period.

His counterpart, Democrat Bill Nelson, has a 2.2 percent absentee rate since 2001, and 3.3 percent since Rubio took office in 2011.

As Murphy’s campaign said, the last senator from Florida to exceed Rubio’s rate was George Smathers, a Democrat who had a 23.6 percent absentee rate over his 18 years in office.

We’ll note there was a significant uptick in missed votes during the end of Smathers’ last term, from 1966 onward, which is 50 years ago. He missed 435 of 835 votes, or more than 52 percent, during his final four years. After that, Smathers declined to run for re-election and became a lobbyist.

If we look at the sheer number of missed votes over a similar length of time, Paula Hawkins skipped 245 over six years, while Edward Gurney missed 293. Those are both more than Rubio’s 234 missed votes. But remember, those two had significantly more votes to miss, so we think the absentee rates carry more weight.

Other presidential candidates who were senators do miss plenty of votes. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who also ran for the 2016 Republican nomination, missed 139 of 321 votes between April 2015 and June 2016, an absentee rate of 43.3 percent. His career rate is 18.1 percent.

In 2008, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois missed 137 out of 213 votes as he ran for president, or 64.3 percent of votes. His career absentee rate was 24.2 percent. In 2004, then-U.S. Sen John Kerry of Massachusetts missed 89.8 percent of votes. His career rate was 7.7 percent.

But back to Floridians: A Rubio spokesman pointed out that Bob Graham, who ran for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, missed about the same number of votes during his campaign as Rubio did.

That was a compelling bit of trivia to check. We found that between April 2015 and March 2016, the months Rubio was on the trail, he missed 157 of 242 votes, a 65 percent absentee rate. (Rubio's campaign clarified that he both declared and ended his campaign in the middle of those months, so his absentee rate then was 53.3 percent.)

Graham missed 149 of 459 votes between January and November 2003, roughly the time he considered and campaigned for the presidency. That’s an absentee rate of 32 percent. He underwent heart surgery on Jan. 31 that year, which caused him to miss votes before his official campaign launch on May 6. (Rubio's campaign noted that between May 6 and when Graham dropped out on Oct. 6, Graham's absentee rate was 50.4 percent.)

That overall period also accounted for three-quarters of Graham’s missed votes over 18 years in the Senate. Graham routinely spent months without missing a single roll call vote.

Finally, overall voting trends in the U.S. Senate do change. Spessard Holland was a senator for 24 years between 1946 and 1971. GovTrack noted that in that time period, the average absentee rate for his peers was considerably higher — 14.5 percent.

Our ruling

Murphy said, "Sen. Rubio has the worst vote attendance record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years."

Rubio has the highest absentee rate since Smathers, who left office in 1969. There are plenty of ways to slice the data: Some senators missed more votes overall, and his record is largely in line with other presidential candidates from the U.S. Senate. It’s important to keep those points in mind, but the roll call has been recorded.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

Editor's note, Sept. 3, 2016: This fact-check was updated to clarify the time span of Marco Rubio's and Bob Graham's presidential campaigns.

Our Sources

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, "Patrick Murphy will debate, but Marco Rubio still won’t commit to six years," Aug. 31, 2016

Associated Press, "Sen. Bob Graham undergoes successful heart surgery," Feb. 1, 2003

Tampa Bay Times, "A born winner, if not a native Floridian," Nov. 29, 2003

PolitiFact Florida, "When attacked for missed votes, Marco Rubio calls out Barack Obama and John Kerry for missing votes," Oct. 28, 2015

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump is right: Marco Rubio has worst Senate voting record," March 3, 2016, U.S. Senate roll call voting records, accessed Sept. 2, 2016

Interview with Galia Slayen, Murphy spokeswoman, Sept. 1, 2016

Interview with Michael Ahrens, Rubio spokesman, Sept. 2, 2016

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Mostly True: Marco Rubio has worst voting record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years

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