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House considers voting by proxy amid virus outbreak

Members of the House would be allowed to designate a colleague to vote for them in the event they are unable to return to Washington amid the coronavirus outbreak under a proposal from the chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., wrote in a letter to colleagues late Monday that voting by proxy could be made available for any members who are unable to return to Washington and cast an in-person vote due to the pandemic. This could include members who are under self-quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus or had contact with someone who tested positive, those who are caring for someone who is ill or those who have reservations about traveling.

“This is a moment of national emergency,” McGovern told his colleagues. “It is imperative that we act swiftly in the weeks and months ahead in a way that preserves the integrity of the institution so that we can continue to respond not just to this crisis, but future emergencies as well.”

The proposal came as members of the House were away from Washington, awaiting an agreement in the Senate on a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package that could come up for a vote this week.

Rules Committee staff began exploring options for voting after two House members tested positive for the virus . Among the ideas floated for consideration was remote voting, but committee staff determined there were too many security concerns in addition to logistical and technical challenges in the middle of the public health crisis.

They suggested that remote voting was something that should be explored for future emergencies, according to a report that accompanied the letter.

Voting by proxy had previously been used at the committee level but never on the House floor, the report noted. Under the rules change, a member would have to complete a form and submit it to the House. This would be allowed only during the coronavirus pandemic and would not apply to normal operating rules in the House.

The report emphasized that Congress could utilize unanimous consent or voice votes to pass legislation but said both those could be derailed under current rules by a single member who objects. The Rules Committee staff said the House could adopt another rules change that would increase the numbers of members who would need to object to force a roll call vote that requires the full House to be present.

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Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.

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