Given the scope and uncertainty of the novel coronavirus, Congress should put in place emergency procedures to conduct business. Instead of finding an alternate or more secure location for members to meet, as during the Atomic Age, the new imperative is to keep people apart to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which means allowing lawmakers to vote remotely.
A bipartisan resolution to amend the standing rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis was introduced Sunday. The measure, sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), calls for the establishment of a verifiable technology and procedure so members can vote in a time of national emergency.
Underscoring the need for a relaxation of Senate rules Monday was the absence of six senators who either had tested positive for covid-19 or were self-isolating after having come in contact with someone who had been exposed. The proposed measure would give the Senate majority and minority leaders joint authority to authorize secure remote voting during any national crisis that makes in-person voting infeasible. Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days. The Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting every 30 days.
“We live in an age where national emergencies, public health crises, and terrorism can threaten the ordinary course of Senate business. We need to bring voting in the Senate into the 21st century so that our important work can continue even under extraordinary circumstances,” said Mr. Durbin.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear he is opposed to remote voting, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) previously shot down the possibility. They need to reconsider. If the health of legislators, their families and staff isn’t enough to persuade them, they might think about what example they are setting for Americans about the importance of social distancing.