Under many states’ public gathering bans, a meeting of 435 people would be illegal. But to pass legislation in the House of Representatives without unanimous consent, that is what would need to happen. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, when public health officials are stressing the importance of social distancing, Congress’ archaic rules still require members to cast their votes in person. To remedy the situation, Rep. Jim McGovern, the Chair of the House Rules Committee, has proposed allowing members of the House to vote remotely or by proxy.
“We’re told that we all should be practicing physical distancing, and yet we were back in session last week, and quite frankly there were a lot of members that I saw who didn’t follow the advice of the attending physician,” McGovern said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Wednesday. “A lot of members just chose not to wear face masks, I guess to show how fearless they are.”
McGovern said he believes that it would be dangerous to require members of Congress to go to and from their home states just to vote on legislation, and reconvening Congress also forces staffers, police officers and building workers to come into work and risk contracting the coronavirus which causes COVID-19. Noting that legislation still needs to be passed, McGovern proposed utilizing technology to allow members to vote remotely and participate in hearings.
For members who are concerned about introducing technology into the legislative process, McGovern suggested beginning with voting-by-proxy, which would allow a member to cast a vote in person on behalf of another member who is absent.
“Look, in the face of something like a pandemic we need to have the government operate and things have changed in the last 231 years,” McGovern said. “Technology has advanced to the point where I think we can do some things remotely and continue to be able to do our work in a safe and orderly manner.”