In the early 1990s, two dozen House lawmakers pitched an idea of voting electronically. The proposal didn’t get very far.
Now, as the coronavirus threat grows, one of original sponsors of that measure is trying again.
“At the time we didn’t have … the electronic communications we have today to safely vote remotely,” said Ohio Republican Rob Portman, who is now a senator. “Now we do.”
Portman is co-sponsoring a resolution with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois to allow remote voting.
And Portman has a lot more company this time.
More than 50 House lawmakers signed onto a plan spearheaded by California Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Eric Swalwell and Texas Republican Van Taylor to make the change.
And more could sign on after the first two members of Congress made public they tested positive for the coronavirus illness.
Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Utah Democrat Ben McAdams said they began to experience symptoms of the illness Saturday night. That was hours after they joined hundreds of House members to approve a coronavirus response package.
The news forced a new wave of quarantines on Capitol Hill.
“There is a health risk of having all of us in the Capitol at the same time,” Swalwell said. “Remote voting would allow us to be powerful voices for our constituents without further contributing and deepening this crisis.”
Congressional leadership has fended off the idea for years. But during a call with her caucus Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she directed Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, chairman of the House Rules Committee, to explore the proposal.
“I’m really heartened that leadership is thinking this through, and praying and hoping that it is not necessary,” Porter said. “But we are asking everyone to prepare … Congress should be no exception.”