Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rules Committee has heard from Members who want to come back to Washington and vote on critical legislation, and Members who want to implement remote voting due to concerns Congress will be unable to pass legislation while also protecting the health of Members, staff, and the public. While these concerns are completely valid, implementing remote voting would raise serious security, logistical, and constitutional challenges.
Security and reliability are hallmarks of the current system and any divergence from current practices must retain the same level of integrity. Although off-the-shelf products exist to allow a Member to videoconference their vote, for example, they have not been tested under the sort of pressure they would face from enemy states or other bad actors trying to force the system offline or prevent individual Members from accessing it. Such a system has to be extensively tested, not used for the first time on must-pass legislation.
A rule change of this magnitude would also be one of the biggest rule changes in the last century, in one of the most critical institutions in our country. It would require major changes to foundational House rules surrounding deliberation, voting, and attendance, which would almost certainly cause unintended consequences if not done with adequate forethought and discussion.1 Remote voting is also a novel method of voting with no parliamentary history or basis. Some may argue that it runs counter to the Constitution’s references to the House meeting to conduct business in the chamber. While arguments can be made in favor of its constitutionality, to avoid a court challenge, it is inadvisable to use unprecedented parliamentary procedures on critical legislation.