When the proxy voting rule was renewed at the beginning of the current Congress, members have been reminded that reasons for absences must be limited to circumstances surrounding the pandemic (but then, what isn’t nowadays). However, there is no way to verify if members have a legitimate reason for staying away. It all gets down to their self-rationalizations and how much they think their constituents will tolerate. If the proxy rule is extended beyond the pandemic, all bets are off and everything is on the table: members become their own parent-permission slips to stay at home.
So, what does it matter in this wired age when people participate in almost anything from anywhere? For Congress it is a serious matter. The Founders believed that the essence of a deliberative lawmaking process is for the representatives of the people to come together to debate their differences over a problem and arrive at some reasonable consensus. The crux of deliberation is lost when there is not a back-and-forth exchange of ideas and arguments, and then, bridging those gaps.
Yes, proxy voting is convenient and painless. But, if it becomes the new normal, it will undermine the very essence of deliberative democracy. It will be a permanent mark against the world’s greatest national lawmaking body if it resorts on a regular basis to second-hand voting on first-tier issues.