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Top House Democrat recommends allowing remote voting during pandemic

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Washington — The Democratic chairman of the House Rules Committee is advocating for temporary remote voting in the House, which would allow members to vote by proxy if they can't return to Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Today, after much consultation with experts and fellow Members, I recommended a path forward to my colleagues that will allow Congress to do its job in an orderly and safe manner during this pandemic: temporary, low-tech remote voting," Chairman Jim McGovern said in a statement on Thursday. 

"Under this plan, any Member unable to travel to Washington due to the pandemic could provide specific instructions for each vote to a fellow Member who has been authorized to cast those votes on their behalf," McGovern continued.

McGovern said that a member casting a vote on behalf of a colleague would need "exact direction" on how to vote, and would need to vote accordingly.

"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," McGovern said.

McGovern's recommendation would require a change to the House rules, which could be passed by unanimous consent in a pro forma session of the House, meaning that not all members would need to be present. If some members disagree with the rule change, however, it would require a quorum of lawmakers to return to Washington to vote.

The chairman emphasized that the rule change would be "temporary and tied to the pandemic." A member choosing to stay in their district would transmit a letter to the House clerk authorizing a colleague to vote on their behalf, including exact instruction on how the proxy should vote. If the member acting as a proxy did not have exact instruction, they would not be able to cast the vote.

McGovern was tasked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to write a memo on voting procedures for House colleagues. Several Democrats urged McGovern to consider remote voting, after dozens of members were forced to self-quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus.

In a report released in March, McGovern said that while there is "no perfect solution" for absent members to vote on the floor, proxy voting is "the best of the options available under the circumstances."

"[U]nlike remote voting, proxy voting has a basis in parliamentary tradition and is not accompanied by the same security and technology concerns," McGovern said in the March report

Molly Hooper and Lauren Peller contributed to this report.

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