Could Congress Vote Remotely? Maybe. Will It? Probably Not.

Last Wednesday, two U.S. officials – Republican MP Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida and Democratic MP Ben McAdams from Utah – tested positive for the new corona virus. And over the weekend, GOP Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky said he had tested positive. A total of almost 30 house members are in a stage of self-quarantine and Five senators are quarantined.

The outbreak of the coronavirus on Capitol Hill has shown how badly Congress should govern when its members cannot be physically present. Five Senate Republicans had to miss Sunday’s vote to pass an economic stimulus package for emergencies because they were quarantined. And if more members can no longer appear in the chambers of the Senate or the House of Representatives, there could be a struggle for a personal quorum at some point.

Technically speaking, it is The constitution only requires the Senate and the House the majority of members present to create a quorum for passing laws, but both chambers have rules that require it Senators and Representative be physically present to cast votes. Leadership in both chambers also largely refuse to allow members to vote without physical presence, but that didn’t stop Some legislators are again calling for remote voting.

In the Senate, the democratic Senate majority whip Dick Durbin and the Republican Senator Rob Portman introduced a resolution allow remote voting of up to 30 days in exceptional circumstances. The measure could then be extended if three fifths of the Senate vote in favor.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed his opposition, tell reporters last week“We will address the issue of social distancing without changing the rules of the Senate fundamentally.” The Senate has adjusted its procedures to extend the time allowed for each vote so that fewer Senators have to be on site at the same time. At this point, however, he has not made any major overhauls.

In the House of Representatives, Democratic Representatives Katie Porter and Eric Swalwell from California, Republican Representative Van Taylor from Texas, asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to adopt remote voting rules, and more than 50 members have agreed to do so Application attached. No specific law is attached to the letter, however Pelosi asked Jim McGovern, chair of the House Rules Committee, will review the topic and the committee on Monday published a memo Review of possible adjustments to the voting procedure. It sounded dubious about the use of remote voting, but rather supported proxy voting – with one absent member voting for another member on their behalf – which has precedents in the House and Senate enables proxy voting in the committee).

The memo’s opposition to remote voting is in line with the views of the House leadership. Pelosi said privately that she is against remote voting, however The house plans to change its voting procedure somehow. McCarthy is also skeptical, especially about how remote voting would work with parliamentary motionsThis may require members to intervene quickly to be heard.

To better understand the interests of the Congress vote from a distance, I spoke to two legal experts – one for such a move and the other against. Daniel Hemel, professor at the University of Chicago School of Law and Supporters of remote votingstressed to me that nothing in the Constitution prevented Congress from allowing members to cast votes remotely.

Yes, the constitution requires a quorum for the Senate and the House of Representatives to do business, but it says nothing about the need for the legislature to be physically present. This requirement stems from the chamber rules which, according to Hemel, could be rewritten to enable remote voting in crisis situations. Although security concerns may exist, Hemel pointed out that corporate executives allow video conferencing as a quorum. It is therefore unclear why Congress would not be able to use a similar system to run its business.

If remote voting is not performed, Hemel suggests that COVID-19 could also cause other problems. “You can imagine a situation where one party actually wins the majority because the other party is more affected,” said Hemel, which could raise concerns about the long-term legitimacy of the votes cast in such circumstances.

A typical example: All five senators currently quarantined are Republicans, which reduced the GOP’s lead in the Senate from 53-47 to 48-47. This has already affected the party’s ability present an economic stimulus plan on SundayEven without the quarantine, the Republicans would have needed some democratic votes to move forward because of cloture rulesand both sides voted for the party line. Nevertheless, we can see how abstentions for health reasons could make it difficult for legislators to weigh up important questions across the board.

But Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University Institute for Government Affairsfears that remote voting could make it easier for the leadership to get past its party’s legislators. “We are already in a place where party leaders have oversized control over the political decision-making process,” said Huder. “If the basis for the backroom deals and negotiations is not there, create a legislature that is a stamp for what the leaders want to adopt.”

Huder did not rule out the use of alternative voting systems in a crisis, suggesting members could stay in Washington and call from their offices. However, he feared that remote voting would reduce personal interactions. inevitably reduce the chances of members making personal contacts, which could exacerbate the differences that already existed in Washington. He also said it is possible that this could set a precedent for using remote voting in non-crisis situations, as “this is a long-term or permanent solution through which Congress will pass laws”.

If the US coronavirus crisis worsens, Congress – including its own members – will be under great pressure to make changes. “At a time when we are asking Americans to make huge sacrifices to stop the spread of COVID-19, it is bad guidance for our politicians not to make any of these adjustments themselves,” said Hemel.

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