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Legislative Updates

House approves remote voting by proxy during a public health emergency

The House of Representatives approved House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern’s (D-MA) H. Res. 965, which would allow for remote voting by proxy in the House and for official remote committee proceedings during a public health emergency, such as the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote came down to party lines with the Democratic majority voting in favor and the Republican minority voting in opposition to the resolution. Up until this resolution, House rules stated “every Member shall be present within the Hall of the House during its sittings.” In a letter to his House colleagues, Chairman McGovern clarified how remote voting will work.

“Members can vote remotely through fellow Members who are able to be physically present in the House Chamber and are able to cast votes on their behalf,” wrote Chairman McGovern. “To do so, Members remaining in their districts will send a letter to the Clerk authorizing another Member to vote on their behalf and providing exact instruction for each announced vote. The Member acting as proxy must follow these instructions and has no discretion in casting those votes. Without exact instruction on a vote, they could not cast that vote.”

While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) remained opposed to changes in House voting rules for a long time in the lead up to the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) favored the change.

 “We are seeing legislatures around the world and across our country working remotely, as well as the Supreme Court,” said Leader Hoyer. “There is no reason we cannot find a way to do so as well.”

Whether the Senate will follow suit is unlikely, due to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated opposition to any rules change. Despite that, bipartisan senators have called for remote voting to be considered, including Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) in a joint op-ed in the Washington Post.

“We hope that this rule change is never needed, but we must be prepared,” wrote Whip Durbin and Sen. Portman. “We know there is resistance to changing a Senate tradition, but we believe our constitutional obligation to govern and maintain a balance of power between the branches is more important than the tradition of in-person voting.”

NALC will continue to monitor any changes in Congressional rules to keep letter carriers informed.

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