The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on Democrats’ proposal to implement widespread proxy voting in a rule change that would upend more than 200 years of precedent and present serious risks to House security systems.
If passed, House members will be able to vote while away from the capital, which has never before been done in the nation’s history. House Republicans say the new measure would prompt legal challenges to the legitimacy of legislation passed without the constitutionally mandated quorum present to conduct business. Voting by proxy has never been allowed to count towards the quorum — or number of representatives present — required to pass laws.
The new rules also grant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the power to unilaterally extend the proposed emergency operations for an additional 45 days without full-chamber approval for as long as public health concerns persist, which will likely be into the new year. In contrast, the Senate’s pandemic procedures require the full upper chamber body to greenlight any 30-day extension for its new format throughout the rest of the crisis.
Republicans caution that the new powers invested in Pelosi could empower Democratic lawmakers to conduct ad hoc investigations that allow virtual hearings to take place with inadequate guidelines and deprive subpoenaed witnesses from their right to counsel during live testimony. Witnesses called before a virtual Congress would be at a severe disadvantage in navigating the House process without on-site assistance from legal advisors giving guidance throughout the proceedings.
The Democratic proposal also provides for the creation and implementation of a new electronic ballot system for remote voting that raises cybersecurity concerns due to the more than 1.6 billion cyber-attacks the House receives on an average month. Republicans are weary of rushing a new remote voting system after seeing how the Iowa Democratic caucuses unfolded just four months ago. A winning candidate wasn’t declared until days after the contest following the collapse of the hastily constructed voting app used to conduct the election.
The app engineered ahead of the pivotal first primary contest had been created in just the two months prior and had yet to be tested statewide. The software also had not been vetted by the Department of Homeland Security, according to The New York Times. While there’s no evidence of malicious activity that led to the caucus chaos, ProPublica found the app lacked “key safeguards” to protect the integrity of the election that easily could have been compromised.
By contrast, the current system in use in the House chamber took three years to design, test, and implement, and works on a closed system without internet to shield the technology from hackers.
The concerns over virtual voting mirror those of the upcoming debate over what the nation’s elections will look like, now just six months away. House Democrats proposed in their latest coronavirus spending package littered with items that have nothing to do with coronavirus that states be required to send each citizen ballots if the pandemic stretches through November. The new $3 trillion dollar bill titled the “HEROES Act” would also guarantee that universal “no-excuse” absentee voting be offered in every state, in effect federalizing the fall elections with little time to make the sweeping changes.
In the proposed rule changes, Democrats are also opening the door to proxy votes on any legislation to make it to the newly proposed virtual House floor, not just coronavirus-related legislation, as before. House Republicans worry these stipulations will be abused for as long as Pelosi keeps renewing the chamber’s pandemic procedures without full-chamber authority following Friday’s vote.