In a historic rule change on May 15, 2020, Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) of the House Rules Committee introduced and the House passed H. Res. 965 to authorize remote voting by proxy in the House of Representatives and remote committee proceedings during the COVID-19 public health emergency for a 45-day period. This 45-day period may be extended for an additional 45 days or terminated earlier, depending on the status of the emergency. Proxy voting had been allowed in House committees previously, but never on the House floor in its 231-year history.
Health care experts have warned of the serious health risks posed by continuing to work in-person, and guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends limiting in-person contact to prevent and reduce the transmission of the virus. The House has been struggling for the past two months with its duty to legislate, while also following the appropriate public health guidance. H. Res. 965 is a temporary measure to help House Members manage both during this emergency.
The House proxy voting procedure is detailed in the Congressional Record, and requires that House Members who wish to vote and participate in Congressional hearings remotely designate a proxy by sending a letter to the Office of the Clerk. While Members may designate a colleague to vote on their behalf on the House floor, no Member can be designated to serve as a proxy for more than ten Members.
With the total COVID-19 deaths reaching 100,000 nationwide and steadily rising, Americans are continuing to rely on safe teleworking practices. The temporary House rule authorizing proxy voting makes it possible for the legislative process to continue, while also working to ensure the health and safety of Members of Congress and their staffs by reducing the number of individuals physically present on Capitol Hill.
As of May 21, 2020, it appears that the Senate is unlikely to permit similar rule changes, as Senator McConnell has publicly denounced the measure. On May 26, House Republicans filed a complaint in federal court arguing that approval of H. Res. 965 defied historical precedent and ignored the constitutional requirement that Members of Congress actually assemble in their respective chambers when they vote. As of last week, one Congressman, Representative Francis Rooney (R-Fla), broke with House Republicans and praised the proxy voting rule change as an important measure to allow official business to continue while following public health guidance.
In response to the House Republicans comments, Speaker Pelosi has defended the action saying the House gets to decide its own procedures. Additionally, Speaker Pelosi noted that the Senate already permits proxy voting in its committees, and this temporary measure serves public health purposes for the duration of the pandemic during the 116th Congress.
To view a list of House Members who have already designated a proxy, click here.