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Public Policy Newsletter Article

House Adopts Historic Rule Allowing Proxy Voting and Virtual Meetings

  • 2020-05-21T15:00:00.000+0000
  • Washington DC
  • Author: Laure Fabrega

On Friday May 15, the House of Representatives voted 217-189 to approve H.Res. 965, a package of changes to the chamber rules to allow Members of Congress to work during the pandemic. The measure allows lawmakers to vote by proxy and conduct hearings and meetings virtually. This is the first time in the nation’s history that a national crisis has led to these significant, yet temporary, changes to how the House operates.

Under the measure, the speaker, in consultation with the minority leader, would designate a 45-day period in which proxy voting would be allowed, after being notified by the sergeant-at-arms and attending physician that a coronavirus public health emergency is in effect. The period could be extended for an additional 45 days if the public health emergency remains in effect.

Members would designate a proxy by submitting a signed letter to the House clerk. The absent member would send the proxy exact instructions on how to vote, and the proxy would be required to follow them. Members whose votes or presence are recorded by proxy would count toward quorum requirements. Proxy designations could be altered or revoked, and would be publicly available. A member couldn’t concurrently serve as proxy for more than 10 members.
The legislation also includes procedures for remote committee work, including remotely participating in hearings and markups, holding votes and calling witnesses, and a requirement that the House Administration Committee study the feasibility of using technology to conduct remote voting in the House, including an evaluation of operable and secure technology options. The Rules Committee is required to develop regulations on implementation of such a remote voting system.

The adopted changes have drawn a clear divide between Republicans who believe that the new rules would set a precedent for remote governing and Democrats who have insisted that the measures are temporary and that they have no interest in replacing traditional voting. On May 4, House Republican leaders, who wanted to follow the lead of the Senate and resume regular business, released a plan to reopen the House and do in-person work, including modifying floor proceedings to permit social distancing, allowing limited virtual participation in hearings for members who can’t travel; and adopting risk mitigation procedures, such as medical screening.

Democratic leaders rejected the suggestions stating that remote work will provide a safe way to resume work as the pandemic drags on. Before returning to Washington on Friday, the House had been mostly out of session since the week of March 23 when they voted on the CARES Act and committees have held several virtual forums but were not allowed to conduct official committee business remotely.