Today, 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.
“In times of a national emergency, the Senate must be able to convene and act expeditiously even if we can’t be together in person. It’s during times like this, when we have a pandemic affecting every corner of society and we are asking people to stay in their homes, that we should have the ability to convene the Senate and get our work done even if we can’t be in the Capitol. While I know there is resistance to changing a Senate tradition to allow for remote voting during national emergencies, I believe this is an important issue and worthy of robust discussion amongst our Senate colleagues,” said Portman.
“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. Bob Dylan was right: ‘the times they are a-changin’,” said Durbin.
NOTE: In 1993, Portman cosponsored H.Res. 278 by then-Congressman John Kasich (R-OH), which would have allowed House members to vote remotely during certain circumstances.