House Considering New Voting Procedures As Coronavirus Strikes Capitol Hill

March 20, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The House appears close to adopting new voting procedures on bills in the wake of two members testing positive for the coronavirus this week.

Though the situation is evolving rapidly, as of Thursday afternoon, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern was preparing a report on the House rules concerning member voting.

In addition, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the Committee on House Administration, was putting the final touches on a memo on additional resources for tele-conferencing.

Both actions came at the direction of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who during a conference call with members, invited them to submit comments.

Separately, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told his fellow Democrats that changes to the House schedule are coming.

“I share the concerns of many members regarding the number of members on the House floor at any one time,” Hoyer wrote in a letter to his fellow Democrats. “I therefore expect that the House will adjust our voting procedures in order to follow the CDC’s recommendations.”

Under normal voting procedures, all 435 House members are called to the floor to vote at the same time. 

Members who were on the call said a number of alternatives are being considered, including having lawmakers vote in 30-member groupings.

Other suggestions included calling members alphabetically by name, alphabetically by name within a state, by random computerized sorting, by the year they were first elected to Congress, by committees.

Someone even suggested they be allowed to vote on a first-come, first serve basis.

Though the specifics remain to be worked out, Hoyer said the House won’t reconvene until a third emergency relief package, currently being drafted by Senate Republicans, has cleared the upper chamber and is ready for a House vote.

The timing of the Senate action is also unclear at this point, but Pelosi said during her conference call that it could be early next week.

The flurry of activity comes after two members of the House — Reps. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. — announced they have contracted the virus.

Since then, a number of their colleagues have announced self-quarantines as a precautionary measure.

It also comes amidst growing pressure from some lawmakers who want the House to adopt a system of remote voting.

Among them is Rep. Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican, who said Thursday, “We are in a serious, global pandemic and Congress should utilize modern technology to permit remote voting.

“Votes on spending and response to the pandemic are critical and will need quick action. Remote voting is the way to effectuate social distancing and follow proper health procedures. The technology exists. Estonia has used it for years,” he said.

“This remote vote capability is even more necessary now that there are two Representatives that have tested positive for the virus. The work of Congress must continue, but it need not put people at risk unnecessarily,” Rooney said.

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