Don Wolfensberger at The Hill:

The importance of requiring members’ presence in the chamber to vote was highlighted last Wednesday when the House narrowly adopted a special rule (H. Res. 1243) making in order three measures for floor consideration that week. The vote was 204-203, with 23 members not voting. It was one of those rare instances in which the Speaker’s “aye” vote made the difference.


Matters are especially tight nowadays with 217 Republicans, 213 Democrats and five vacancies. In an expected party-line vote, which most special rules are, the majority’s proposition will lose if just two of its members defect. In last Wednesday’s case, there were no Republican defectors and the absentees were almost evenly spread, 13 Republicans and 10 Democrats. One can imagine the anxiety each party’s whip team must go through not always knowing exactly who will show up to vote.


House voting practices have sometimes been subject to controversy and even scandal. In 1980, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (now Ethics) issued a report recommending the voting rule be amended to prohibit members from authorizing other members to vote for them. As the committee put it, “voting anomalies” had occurred. Members were giving their electronic voting cards to colleagues to vote for them, saving them the trouble, for instance, of having to change clothes in the gymnasium and rush to the floor. But the precedents note that “ghost voting” was occurring even before that and has always been considered “unethical.”


From May 2020 in the 116th Congress, through the end of the 117th Congress, the House officially authorized remote proxy voting due to the public health crisis (COVID-19). Members were allowed to designate a colleague to vote for them by filing a letter with the clerk (e-mail was allowed) along with their direction of how to vote on each matter likely to be voted on that day. The Senate never adopted such a rule. The practice was discontinued when Republicans retook control of the House in January 2023 as the public health crisis receded.


In reviewing House roll call votes during the first three weeks of May, the average high absentee rate hovered between 20 and 30 members, though around 1:30 p.m. last Thursday, the number of absentees hit high marks of 55 and 36 (Roll Nos. 227 & 228).


Members can apply for leaves of absence for legitimate reasons. This is the more formal process but can still be refused by the House. Less formal explanations for missing votes are inserted in the Congressional Record along with how the member would have voted — a handy thing to have should the issue of missed votes arise during a campaign.