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House Democrats Consider Proxy Voting During Coronavirus Pandemic

In this file photo from Jan. 3, 2019, the House of Representatives chamber is seen on the first day of the 116th Congress. The coronavirus pandemic is raising the issue of whether there should be remote voting to enable lawmakers to cast votes without all lawmakers needing to return to Washington.
In this file photo from Jan. 3, 2019, the House of Representatives chamber is seen on the first day of the 116th Congress. The coronavirus pandemic is raising the issue of whether there should be remote voting to enable lawmakers to cast votes without all lawmakers needing to return to Washington.

House Democrats are considering proxy voting as a new way to avoid large gatherings in the lower chamber during the coronavirus pandemic.

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., presented the plan to Democrats during a caucus call on Thursday, suggesting it was the best low-tech option at this time.

The proposal would allow members to vote on behalf of colleagues who aren't able to travel to Washington, D.C. It would also allow those votes to count towards a quorum — a procedural move which is sometimes requested by members hoping to block a measure.

"This system would enable Members to vote remotely in a secure way, without using the kind of technology that is susceptible to hacking or interference by foreign bad actors. And because it doesn't rely on some new technology being stood up and vigorously tested, it could give Members a say on important legislation much more quickly," McGovern said in a statement.

The plan comes among growing concerns that Congress won't be able to meet in a traditional way in the midst of the pandemic, and could in the coming weeks need to vote on new relief measures to address economic woes.

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Proxy voting would need to be approved in the form of a resolution by the full House, which is not expected to return until May 4 at the earliest. McGovern also noted the proxy voting plan would be temporary and just apply to bills being considered during the pandemic.

Some lawmakers have pushed for remote voting for all lawmakers, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others have expressed concerns over the move. Opponents have said there are technological and security obstacles to installing the effort quickly.

Last month, the House Rules Committee released a 23-page report that weighed the various alternatives to in-person voting. The report found that proxy voting was a top alternative.

"We should not wait for this pandemic to end to make changes to the rules that help us to do our jobs in such an unprecedented time," McGovern said. "I hope my colleagues, Democratic and Republican, can work together to implement this temporary solution."

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