House to vote on remote proxy voting as soon as Thursday

Potential rules change expected on the floor when members return for coronavirus aid vote

The Hall of Columns is vacant in the Capitol as Congress remains absent due to the coronavirus pandemic. Members are expected to return this week to vote on another aid package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The Hall of Columns is vacant in the Capitol as Congress remains absent due to the coronavirus pandemic. Members are expected to return this week to vote on another aid package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 21, 2020 at 7:16am

The House is expected to vote as soon as Thursday on a major, but temporary, change to the chamber's voting rules to allow for proxy voting as travel and large gatherings continue to pose public health risks during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Lawmakers are expected to have to return to Washington this week to vote on an update to coronavirus pandemic aid for small businesses, and House leaders plan to use the session to also approve an emergency proxy-voting procedure in response to the health crisis. The change would allow an absent lawmaker to designate a colleague to vote on House floor matters on their behalf.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., announced late Monday night that if the Senate passes the small-business aid in their Tuesday pro forma session, the House could meet as soon as Thursday at 10 a.m., when a proxy-voting resolution may be brought for a vote.

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., floated the proxy-voting and rule change proposal last week, in response to calls from within his caucus for leadership to establish a system for remote voting to allow the House to continue pressing legislative business during the COVID-19 crisis. 

[House inches toward low-tech remote voting with proxy vote proposal]

Proxy procedure

Many lawmakers thought that technology could be the solution to allow remote voting, but concerns about cybersecurity, outside intrusion and lack of time for testing led McGovern and House leadership to move forward with a low-tech proxy solution. 

House members who remained in their district would send a letter, electronically, to the clerk to authorize another member to vote on their behalf and would provide exact instruction on how to vote. The authorization could be updated as procedural or other unexpected votes arise during the session.

Members able and willing to vote in person on their own behalf could still do so. Members physically present would be eligible to cast votes on behalf of their colleagues.

Unlike the proxy-voting description laid out in a March report from the Rules Committee, the most recent proposal would not include a “general proxy” to allow minority and majority leaders to serve as proxies for members of their respective parties for a verbal roll call vote.

[Organizations push for remote floor and committee debate, not just voting]

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, told CQ Roll Call in a statement Monday night that the changes to voting procedure should not be made in haste. 

“A change of how Members of Congress vote cannot be made overnight, as we saw from the three-year process it took the House to implement the electronic voting system currently used in the House Chamber," said Davis, who also serves on the Select Committee on Modernization of Congress. "We must first mitigate risks, test the process extensively, and consider the overall integrity of a vote by proxy system.”

No legislative text for the rule change has been released. Davis said Democrats must keep their promise to ensure that changes to House voting practices be done in a bipartisan way. 

“I hope they will stick to their word and work with us for a safe, bipartisan voting solution amid this pandemic,” he said. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Republicans on a conference call Sunday night he had not yet taken a position on McGovern's proxy-voting proposal, according to a member on the call.

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