Urgent and Obvious: Congress Must Implement a Contingency Plan for Secure, Remote Voting

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Posted: Mar 26, 2020 1:25 PM
Urgent and Obvious: Congress Must Implement a Contingency Plan for Secure, Remote Voting

Source: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

I started asking Congressional radio guests about this issue last week, and Allahpundit wrote a prescient post on it. And then Sen. Rand Paul was diagnosed with coronavirus, sending some colleagues into isolation (Paul's actions were absolutely irresponsible, but ugly attacks on him are totally uncalled for). As of this writing, the 53-seat Senate Republican majority is down to 48 votes because of quarantines. Staffers are testing positive. Congress must be able to operate in crises (spasms of infuriating dysfunction aside) that have the potential of sidelining significant numbers of its members. And as the pandemic continues to impact representatives and their staffs from both parties, on both ends of Capitol Hill, the push for secure remote voting seems to be growing. Here was a bipartisan Senate resolution from last week:

U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bipartisan resolution to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis. During certain crises, such as the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, guidelines from the CDC may advise against convening the full Senate in the Capitol. However, that should not prevent Congress from safely engaging in its constitutional responsibility to convene during a crisis, conduct its basic constitutional duties, and enact responsible legislation for the nation. Specifically, during a national crisis that makes it infeasible for the senators to vote in person, the resolution gives the Majority and Minority Leaders the joint authority to allow secure remote voting. Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days. The Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting every 30 days.

Rep. Elise Stefanik was beating this drum over the weekend:


And here is President Trump lending his support to the idea:

President Donald Trump on Sunday endorsed the idea of Congress setting up remote voting procedures “on a temporary basis” after Paul, a Kentucky Republican, tested positive for the novel coronavirus...“I would certainly be in favor of it, where they could remote from some outside location,” the president said when asked about the idea during the daily coronavirus news conference. “I was thinking about it today,” Trump said. “You could have a lot of senators and a lot of House members. … You could have a large number” who have COVID-19.

The contingency plans need to be put in place now, before more congresspeople or senators are forced into isolation, either because they have the disease, or as a precaution. I understand that this would be a huge break with a longstanding tradition, but so be it; people should be fine with doing away with the temporary arrangement once the immediate crisis has passed. How could it work, in practice? I'm hardly an expert, but it seems as though a multi-layers system could be fashioned in which votes are cast through a secure electronic system and members vocalize their votes out loud, on camera. We certainly have the technology to implement that.

There's no good reason for members to be unable to cast crucial votes because they're self-quarantining out of an abundance of caution, or even if they're sick but cogent. Isolation medically-correct decision that should not prevent them from carrying out their duties of governance in the middle of a national emergency. It sounds like Pelosi -- who has been busy lying and rolling out a disgraceful coronavirus bill -- is taking this idea under advisement, but isn't moving forward with it (on this, she and Mitch McConnell seem to be in agreement, sadly):


One senator who's been under quarantine is Lindsey Graham, whose thread on the 'healthcare disaster vs. economic disaster' question -- which is obviously top-of-mind for leaders ranging from President Trump to Governor Cuomo -- is worthwhile. It's an excruciating balance with no good or easy answers:


Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of House GOP leadership, agrees:


It's not irresponsible to discuss or contemplate gradually 'reopening' the US economy, a tough balancing act that must have input from the best health and economic experts. But first things first. Make tangible progress slowing and fighting the virus. I'll leave you with an extension of prayers and well-wishes to Sen. Amy Klobuchar's family:


Implementing an emergency remote voting contingency is not a partisan issue.  Other legislative bodies are taking novel steps under these conditions; Congress can too.  As the House of Representatives prepares to pass a $2 trillion relief bill by voice vote -- with no formal recorded tally -- because so many members will be out of town or quarantined, I'll leave you with my interview with Sen. Portman on this subject: