House Democrats change rules to allow “proxy voting”
For the first time in history, members of the House of Representatives can now cast a vote by proxy under a resolution passed on Friday. The change comes as Congress continues to struggle with how to conduct business during the coronavirus pandemic. Almost all D.C. congressional offices are closed and operating remotely after a number of Hill staffers and lawmakers began testing positive for COVID-19.
With the rule change, members who cannot be in Washington can determine whom they will call to cast their vote on the House floor on their behalf. No single member can be responsible for casting a vote for more than 10 of their colleagues. In order to vote by proxy, members must submit in writing their intent to the House Clerk, Cheryl Johnson.
Democrats argued that the House needed to make sure that they can continue to do work in a safe environment during the health crisis while Republicans called the move an “unconstitutional power grab.”
“Our Founders would be ashamed that we aren’t assembling,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said while arguing that lawmakers shouldn’t be paid to stay home. “A virtual Congress would be a Congress that is connected to the Internet, but disconnected from the American people.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise took to Twitter on Friday to express his concerns over the rule change as well. He charged that Democrats can now “sit at home and collect their paychecks while turning their voting cards over to Pelosi.”
The issue of allowing members to vote remotely isn’t as partisan as the proxy voting rule change. Last month, a group of bipartisan House members making up the “Problem Solvers Caucus” sent an open letter to House leaders with several alternatives including installing voting machines in the district offices of lawmakers. Pelosi has repeatedly dismissed the idea of electronic remote voting.
Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman also called for remote voting in a recent Op-Ed. He told reporters that Congress was falling behind while many Americans are finding ways to work remotely.
“The idea of remote voting has been kicking around for years, but it has gotten more attention recently with the coronavirus.” wrote Portman. “In a way, having the capability to vote remotely is similar to what so many others are doing, as millions of jobs have shifted to remote work to slow the spread of the virus.”
The proxy vote change comes during an interesting time in Washington. The Supreme Court is currently holding their oral arguments via telephone conference and the U.S. Senate recently held a video conference hearing where the chairman and witnesses zoomed from their homes.
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