House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday the House of Representatives won’t implement remote voting anytime soon despite growing concern from bipartisan members that in-person voting is dangerous given the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“Our rules are our best protection,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday when asked about any plans for proxy voting. “… If the rules need to be changed, that has to be done carefully.”
Currently, there’s no method in place for lawmakers to vote from home or to conduct official business electronically.
A bipartisan group of moderate lawmakers known as the Problem Solvers Caucus called on House leadership in a letter this week to develop alternative voting methods. They pitched voting by phone, voting through video teleconference or installing voting machines in members’ district offices.
“We’re not there yet,” Pelosi said Thursday when asked about the proposal. “And we’re not going to be there no matter how many letters somebody sends — with all the respect in the world for that. And it won’t happen unless we can do it in a bipartisan way.”
Given the public safety risks of large gatherings, the House and Senate have sought to minimize the number of lawmakers needed in Washington by approving legislation through a voice vote and unanimous consent, which doesn’t require full attendance or a roll call vote.
But there are serious drawbacks to this approach. It only takes one dissenter to block a unanimous consent vote– as evidenced Thursday when Democrats blocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s effort for $250 billion in new small business funding.
Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution also mandates that the House and Senate have a quorum on hand to conduct business. A quorum is at least half of the current membership present on the floor.
It’s usually not an issue, unless someone makes it one.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-K.Y., was dubbed the “most hated” man in Washington when he required the majority of the lawmakers to fly back to D.C. last month to pass the $2 trillion CARES Act, the massive coronavirus stimulus relief bill that leadership wanted to pass by a barebones voice vote for public health reasons.
Massie has called for remote voting. And until that’s in place, he’s determined to again prevent the House from taking votes without a quorum present.
House Rule XX currently includes provisions for diminishing the size of a quorum due to a catastrophic event. But that provision also requires the House declare a number of seats vacant.
Pelosi warned Thursday it will take time and broad bipartisan support to change any rules on voting.
“It took three years to change the rules after 9/11 [terrorist attacks],” Pelosi said of a move to have members who are incapacitated not counted in a quorum call.
Pelosi ordered House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to assemble a draft report on possible alternatives to convening lawmakers to vote in person as the risk of person-to-person contact poses a grave threat.
“We have to find ways to quickly respond to the massive problems we face – which may mean taking personal risk,” the draft report says. “But we must do so thoughtfully. Above all, we need to act in a way that keeps public safety at the forefront, while preserving the integrity of the institution so that we can continue to respond to this crisis.”
The report raises security concerns about remote voting, including “deepfakes” in a video-based system. While a future remote system could include biometric authentication, “this technology would take time to put into place,” the report said.
There is also concern about the House engineering a new system amid a global pandemic that could backfire with technical glitches. Implementing a new regimen could be the second coming of the app used for the Iowa Democratic Caucus that failed to count votes on election night, skeptics fear.