(May 18, 2020) On May 15, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted H. Res. 965, which provides for voting by proxy during the coronavirus pandemic. The resolution allows a single House member to serve as a voting proxy for up to 10 fellow members and establishes a protocol for this new process. The resolution also authorizes committee meetings to be held remotely and directs the Committee on House Administration to study feasibility and security issues related to remote voting in the House. Before the adoption of H. Res. 965, representatives were strictly prohibited from off-site voting.
Article I of the U.S. Constitution establishes that a quorum, a majority of members, are required to conduct House business. Under current House Rules, a quorum in the House requires the presence of 218 members. Article I also affords the House some independence in conducting its business, providing that “[e]ach House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” The House Rules Committee drafts new House Rules at the beginning of each Congress.
While H. Res. 965 does not amend the current House Rules, it creates certain exceptions based on the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Rule III of the House Rules states that “[e]very Member shall be present within the Hall of the House during its sittings” and “[n]o other person may cast a Member’s vote or record a Member’s presence in the House.” The resolution creates an exception to Rule III in the event that the sergeant-at-arms, in consultation with the House’s attending physician, notifies the speaker of the House (or the speaker’s designee) of the existence of public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus. After such a notification, the speaker (or the speaker’s designee), in consultation with the minority leader (or the minority leader’s designee), may designate a “covered period” during which proxy voting is permitted. A covered period will terminate after 45 days, although it may be extended for an additional 45 days, or it may end early if the public health emergency resolves.
To date, the Senate has not adopted an equivalent provision to allow remote voting. Senators Richard Durbin and Rob Portman introduced S. Res. 548, which would amend Rule XII of the Senate Rules to permit electronic voting from outside the chamber. That resolution was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on March 19, 2020.