Editorial: Make Congress Show Up to Vote Again
Most Americans have resumed something close to normal life after COVID-19, but not the U.S. House of Representatives. Many lawmakers have become accustomed to the convenience of voting in absentia, and they want to make a supposed emergency measure an accepted practice.
The House has allowed Members to vote by proxy for almost two years, and the COVID-19 dispensation will expire on March 30 unless Speaker Nancy Pelosi extends it another 45 days, as she has many times. Only 101 Representatives didn’t vote by proxy at all last year— 78 Republicans and 23 Democrats, according to a Ripon Society analysis. Proxy voting is especially popular on Fridays—on the rare occasions that Congress works more than four days a week.
Proxy voting is no small institutional change, and having a quorum present is essential to House procedures and character. If Members aren’t around, it’s easier for leadership to ram through bills without debate or amendment. The rough and tumble of negotiation is harder. The Senate — average Member age: 64 — has navigated pandemic risks without proxy floor voting, and vaccines obviate whatever public-health rationale once existed.
Lawmakers seem to have thought better of, say, casting a committee vote while out on a boat, but there’s talk of a new system that allows members to vote by proxy for a good reason, or perhaps a certain number of times a year. “The world has changed. Technology is extraordinary,” Democrat Steny Hoyer said at a House hearing last week, arguing Congress should adapt like other businesses.
But Members have always missed votes. Voters are best equipped to make distinctions between a Member who isn’t available to rename post offices because she’s away due to family illness and a Member who skips votes to attend fundraisers and appear on television.
Some Representatives don’t want to relocate their families to Washington and thus want more time at home. But serving in Congress is supposed to be public service. Voting is the core duty of Congress, and House Members should respect the office enough to come to the floor when the roll is called.