Madam Speaker, proxy voting is not remote voting

Yesterday, Ed Morrissey provided a good takedown of the preposterous $3 trillion dollar “stimulus” bill passed by Nancy Pelosi and most of her Democratic colleagues in the House. The number of things wrong with this budget-busting boondoggle is too lengthy to fully explore here, but in the same session, they snuck in a rule change that Ed mentioned briefly but deserves a bit more attention. That was the decision to temporarily (we hope) allow proxy votes to be cast on the House floor.

As Ed correctly noted, it’s a rather pointless maneuver since it would only initially last for 45 days. If this dead-on-arrival package was actually passed, it includes a provision for sixty days of vacation for Congress so there wouldn’t be any voting going on anyway. But the proxy vote rule also allows for the measure to be renewed every 45 days if the members think they can get away with it. As the NY Post reported yesterday, this was the opposite of a bipartisan move. No Republicans supported the rule change and Pelosi couldn’t even get all of the Democrats to go along.

The Democratic-held House on Friday authorized proxy voting for the first time in its history, due to the coronavirus pandemic — disregarding Republican claims that the change is unconstitutional and unwise.

The reform was adopted in a near-party-line 217-189 vote, with all Republicans opposed and joined in their nay votes by three Democrats and Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

Under the new rules, lawmakers can vote on behalf of up to 10 colleagues if they have written letters authorizing them to do so.

While I agree with Ed that there is little reason for the members to take any time off and they could make arrangements to conduct their business safely, there is one point where I disagree. In the event that some of the members simply can’t make it back to Washington or are perhaps in self-quarantine after exposure to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, I really see nothing wrong with allowing real-time remote voting.

We do so much these days via teleconferencing (and were doing so even before the pandemic hit), there’s little reason to think we couldn’t quickly get an effective system in place to allow members to vote from home or a remote office. As long as they were able to monitor the totals and verify that their vote was correctly tallied, it shouldn’t be that much of an issue. And it could be made to self-expire periodically the same way that this proxy measure was crafted.

Such a plan would certainly be preferable to the idea of literal proxy voting. Allowing one member to step up to the lectern and cast as many as eleven votes just smacks of abuse, no matter how honest and well-intentioned the member may be. And what happens in the event that someone decides to “bend the rules” a bit? This could wind up being similar to the problems we face with faithless electors. Once a member surrenders their vote to a colleague and that vote is cast, I’m not aware of any provision in the House rules to reel that back in.

Certainly, there could be punishments for such violations put in place, such as a censure. The members could even expel someone hijacking a proxy vote if they wished to do so. But it would still be too late for that specific vote, wouldn’t it? The die would have already been cast, and if it was a close vote, the course of legislative history would have already been changed.

The ideal situation would be to have all of our elected representatives just show up and do their damn jobs. As Ed Morrissey suggested, they could all move into a hotel near the chambers and arrange private transportation back and forth. (I’m sure some of the hotels would be grateful for the business these days.) But failing that, I think remote voting could still be an option if it’s implanted carefully.