U.S. House Should Not Allow Remote Voting, Panel Says in Report

U.S. House Should Not Allow Remote Voting, Panel Says in Report

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. House panel has recommended against allowing remote voting for the chamber even as two congressmen have tested positive for the coronavirus and other lawmakers and staff have quarantined themselves.

“This change cannot be implemented overnight, and likely cannot be accomplished in time to address the current crisis,” the Rules Committee said in a report released Monday night that explored alternatives to having lawmakers come to Washington during the pandemic and vote in the chamber.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been an opponent of remote voting. But there have been bills introduced to implement such a system and some of her fellow Democrats brought up the topic in a caucus-wide telephone call last week.

Representatives Mario Diaz Balart, a Florida Republican, and Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat, said last week they had tested positive for the new coronavirus, and more than a half a dozen other House members are in self-quarantine because of contact with people who have been infected.

Pressure has also been mounting in the Senate chamber to change hallowed tradition. Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said Sunday that he has tested positive and Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and former presidential candidate, announced that her husband has the virus. Several Senate staff members also have confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

But the House report said that a shift “of this magnitude would also be one of the biggest rule changes in the last century, in one of the most critical institutions in our country.

“It would require major changes to foundational House rules surrounding deliberation, voting, and attendance, which would almost certainly cause unintended consequences if not done with adequate forethought and discussion,” the committee added.

The report does point out that since the onset of the pandemic, “the Rules Committee has heard from members who want to come back to Washington and vote on critical legislation, and members who want to implement remote voting due to concerns Congress will be unable to pass legislation while also protecting the health of members, staff, and the public.”

But while these concerns “are completely valid,” the report continued, “implementing remote voting would raise serious security, logistical, and constitutional challenges. Security and reliability are hallmarks of the current system and any divergence from current practices must retain the same level of integrity.”

The report does mention that when travel to Washington for votes is necessary, the 435-seat House could pass legislation with recorded votes cast by members in shifts. One option that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland has told members he is considering is having only 30 or so members on the House floor to vote at a time, as a way to control how many are in the chamber and in proximity to each other.

In a letter Monday to colleagues accompanying the report, Rules Chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts pointed out that he’d been asked last week by Pelosi to look into the issue.

“This request came at a time when many members on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns regarding traveling and congregating en masse as this pandemic continues to spread across the country,” he wrote.

He concluded with, “together, we will get through these difficult times.”

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