The United States House of Representatives will consider a historic resolution on Friday to allow remote voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
The resolution, tabled by Steny Hoyer (MD), leader of the majority of the house, would allow proxy voting on the floor of the house, as well as remote hearings of committees and drafting of bills. The resolution would also provide for future remote voting during the pandemic through technology, “after a system has been developed and certified.”
It would be the first time in centuries that the House of the part of the rules that determine that “Every member will be present in the hall of the house during his meetings” when it is time to vote.
Hoyer and other democratic leaders have emphasized that these changes would be temporary and disappear if the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic subsided. Unlike other parts of the country, Washington, DC has not yet seen a significant drop in the number of cases; United States Mayor Muriel Bowser extended a stay in the entire city until June 8.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi has previously said that proxy voting should only be used to a limited extent and associated with coronavirus law until Congress can safely return to personal voting.
Hoyer, in particular, was a supporter of proxy voting, citing other governments around the world that have made similar changes, as well as by states in the United States, including Iowa, Kentucky, Utah, and Vermont.
“We see lawmakers around the world and across our country working remotely, as well as the Supreme Court. There’s no reason we can’t find a way to do this, either, “Hoyer told Vox’s Jen Kirby in a recent interview.
While Hoyer has stressed that remote voting during the pandemic should be a two-fold issue, House Republicans don’t seem to be on board. A vote on Friday is expected to go along party lines. While Hoyer said he is pushing the resolution forward with input from Republicans, the House GOP has announced its opposition by bringing down an earlier attempt to pass remote votes. They remain against this attempt, said Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), a minority leader in the house.
“The Democrats’ proposal calls on the House of Representatives to leave the ship – possibly for the remainder of the session,” McCarthy said in a statement. “As we have said from the beginning, any change to the age-old rules of Parliament should only be done in two ways, reaching consensus. This proposal will not pass that critical test and would forever make our democratic institution worse. ”
What proxy voting and hearings would look like
The new resolution empowers the House Speaker to perform temporary remote proxy voting and remote commission procedures for 45 days, which may be extended or extended.
The resolution states that proxy voting would take place in consultation with the minority leader, the House sergeant and the Capitol attending physician, and would be explicitly related to a public health emergency resulting from the corona virus. The term for proxy voting could also be terminated prematurely by the Chamber Speaker.
This is how proxy voting would take place: a member who cannot be physically present will send a signed letter (which can also be filed electronically) to the registrar indicating who’s proxy is.
The proxy would then record the vote of his colleague in the register during the vote, either electronically or by roll call vote. A member’s proxy indicates that he is voting on behalf of another colleague while voting and that his colleague’s vote is expressly prohibited.
While the resolution allows for commissioning and marking through technology such as Zoom or any other type of video conferencing service, that does not apply to the vote.
As Jox Kirby of Vox wrote, video conferencing has become the new way of meeting and sometimes voting for many other legislatures around the world during the Covid-19 era. The British Parliament has met partly with a smaller part of its body in the room and a larger number weighing from home.
The UK ‘hybrid’ parliament spent a few weeks in this mode with hearings and questions. Some fifty MPs are allowed to be in the room, while another 120 can pour in from their computer screens. (Johnson, who was hospitalized for the coronavirus, back to the House of Commons Wednesday for the first time since March.) Parliament is currently testing the technology required for remote voting, which could happen for the first time next week.
But the need to adhere to the guidelines for social distancing has been accompanied by the recognition that Parliament must do very serious work to deal with the pandemic, and that the government must now be held more accountable than ever. Both MPs and their constituents needed a platform to scrutinize the government’s response to Covid-19.
On Friday, the House will probably join this growing world trend. The Senate, which has kept some hearings at bay but has personally voted, will not follow so far.
The Senate is more skeptical about proxy voting
Senate-majority Mitch McConnell has been relatively determined to bring senators back to the Capitol to work and vote.
Senators from both parties, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have made their own proposals for how remote voting could work. The bipartisan measure by Durbin and Portman, if adopted, would empower McConnell and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to declare a 30-day vote by ballot during a national crisis.
“Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days, and the Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting after each 30-day period thereafter,” they wrote in a Washington Post opinion. “This limitation means that remote voting cannot become the norm without consensus on the continuity of an emergency.”
The Senate has held several hearings through Zoom; the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a high-profile hearing about coronavirus this week with Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts as committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TX) quarantined after an employee tested positive for Covid-19.
However, the Senate has also shown the limits of personal voting this week; a two-way Senate amendment to protect Americans’ browsing history from government surveillance failed on Wednesday with one vote because some lawmakers were working from home.
McConnell has shown no interest in supporting the resolution at a distance, although Democrats have been able to use the influence they have in the Senate to pressure him. For example, given that each bill in the Senate requires 60 votes to pass, Democrats may be able to withhold support for future packages in an effort to force reconsideration of distance voting.
Before leaving for a previous recess, McConnell had said that legislators would use other means, such as trying to falter when they vote, to maintain the social distance in the Capitol.