Portman, Durbin Washington Post Op-Ed: Senate Should Pass Emergency Remote Voting Resolution

March 24, 2020 | Portman Difference

Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) penned a joint op-ed for the Washington Post highlighting the need for the Senate to pass their bipartisan resolution to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis. During certain crises, such as the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, guidelines from the CDC may advise against convening the full Senate in the Capitol. However, that should not prevent Congress from safely engaging in its constitutional responsibility to convene during a crisis, conduct its basic constitutional duties, and enact responsible legislation for the nation. Specifically, during a national crisis that makes it infeasible for the senators to vote in person, the resolution gives the Majority and Minority Leaders the joint authority to allow secure remote voting. Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days. The Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting every 30 days. 

“In the midst of the novel coronavirus, it is imperative that our federal institutions find ways to continue to perform their constitutional duties. Like so many others, the Senate has been affected by this virus, with one of our colleagues testing positive, others in self-quarantine due to possible exposure and many of our offices closed to practice social distancing,” wrote the senators. “That is why we introduced a bipartisan resolution that would amend Senate rules to allow senators to vote remotely during times of extraordinary national crisis like we see today… This is an important issue and worthy of robust discussion among the members of the Senate and our constituents. Our hope is that this proposal will get us talking about how to best make certain the government keeps working during a national crisis, and we will work to push for this important resolution so that the Senate can continue to function, no matter the emergency.” 

Excerpts of the op-ed can be found below and the full op-ed can be found at this link 

Senators Must be Allowed to Vote Remotely During a Crisis Like This One

By Senators Rob Portman and Dick Durbin

Washington Post

March 24, 2020 

In the midst of the novel coronavirus, it is imperative that our federal institutions find ways to continue to perform their constitutional duties. Like so many others, the Senate has been affected by this virus, with one of our colleagues testing positive, others in self-quarantine due to possible exposure and many of our offices closed to practice social distancing. Now, when we have a pandemic affecting every corner of society and we are asking people to stay in their homes, we must take steps to make certain we have the ability to convene the Senate and get our work done even if we can’t safely gather in the Capitol. 

The Senate’s work has not stopped. We are still responding to our constituents, performing casework duties to solve constituent problems and working on legislation to address this crisis. Over the course of the past few weeks, the Senate has been able to pass key pieces of legislation designed to alleviate some of the worst effects from the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

We are at a similar point today, only this time, it is not the Senate’s meeting space that is at risk — it is the senators themselves. That is why we introduced a bipartisan resolution that would amend Senate rules to allow senators to vote remotely during times of extraordinary national crisis like we see today. Specifically, during these kinds of national crises, be it a pandemic or another situation where it is impossible for senators to vote in person, the resolution gives the majority and minority leaders — in this case, Sens. Mitch McConnell and Charles E. Schumer — joint authority to allow secure remote voting. Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days, and the Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting after every 30-day period afterward. This limitation will ensure that voting remotely cannot become the norm without a consensus around the continuity of an emergency. 

We hope that this rule change is never needed, but we must be prepared. We know there is resistance to changing a Senate tradition, but we believe our constitutional obligation to govern and maintain a balance of power between the branches is more important than the tradition of in-person voting. 

This is an important issue and worthy of robust discussion among the members of the Senate and our constituents. Our hope is that this proposal will get us talking about how to best make certain the government keeps working during a national crisis, and we will work to push for this important resolution so that the Senate can continue to function, no matter the emergency.

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