A minority whip is a person in the legislature who assists the minority party leader in the House or Senate with keeping the party's votes consistent and ensuring that people attend important votes. He or she is a high ranking individual in the overall structure of the party and a key member of the legislature. In regions where party unity is critical to political success, such as the United Kingdom, people in this position can have significant political power.
The term “whip” has its origins in fox hunting. Whips are members of the hunt staff who are responsible for keeping the hounds in order and focused together. If hounds attempt to split off from the pack or the pack becomes disorganized, the whippers-in, as they are also known, redirect the hounds under the direction of the hunt leader. Whips in legislature serve a similar function, working under the majority or minority leader to keep members of the party focused and on task.
One important part of a minority whip's role is ensuring that members of the party vote consistently. Party unity can be important for a party in the political minority because otherwise it may have difficulty achieving political goals. The whip's work can include circulating information about upcoming votes, meeting with people within the party to resolve disputes and work out agreements, and also communicating with the majority whip to discuss possible compromises and concessions.
Members of the legislature are not required to be continuously present in the legislative chamber. This is where another aspect of a minority whip's job comes in. He or she must ensure that members of the party are present for key votes. This can include rounding up legislators when the opposition calls a vote abruptly. Whips make sure that their charges know when votes are scheduled and are aware of key votes that they must be present for.
When the minority leader is not present, the whip is considered the acting floor leader. Floor leaders are offered certain courtesies in Congress, such as preference when they want to speak. Typically, this person has a team of assistants who help out with various tasks and ensure that the whip is never caught unawares by events on the floor of the legislature. Staffers develop briefings discussing pending legislature, rumors about agreements being reached off the floor, and other information that may be relevant to the job.