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Biggest change in 231 years: Citing Covid-19, US House of Representatives adopts proxy votes & remote meetings in party-line vote

Biggest change in 231 years: Citing Covid-19, US House of Representatives adopts proxy votes & remote meetings in party-line vote
The US House of Representatives will allow members to cast votes for up to 10 others and hold hearings remotely. Billed as temporary due to the coronavirus outbreak, the rule change is the most radical in over two centuries.

The new rules passed on Friday evening in a 217-189 vote, with three Democrats and one Independent joining the Republicans in bipartisan opposition.

Democrats, who currently control the chamber, pushed for the change this week, calling it “a common-sense solution to an unprecedented crisis that demands our ingenuity and adaptability as an institution,” in the words of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland). Republicans objected, calling the proposal a “partisan assault on the rights of the House Minority and our ability to effectively represent the American people.”

Under the new rules, members of Congress will be able to hold committee hearings entirely online, and any member attending a House vote can cast as many as 10 votes on behalf of colleagues who have authorized such proxy voting in writing.

The proxy vote is the most significant change in House voting procedures since electronic voting systems were installed in 1973, National Public Radio reported.

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“We can continue to work in a safe and effective manner without overturning 230 years of constitutional and legislative tradition,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) said ahead of the vote, urging his party to oppose the proposal. 

The new rules are meant to be temporary, applying only to “a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus” as declared by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

However, Friday’s resolution also lays the groundwork for remote voting, directing the House Administration Committee to conduct a study, certify a new electronic voting plan and test it out, NPR reported. Such a system could be installed in the next several months, at the earliest.

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