Portman The Hill Op-Ed: It’s Critical We Have Remote Voting in Place to Ensure the Continuity of Government, No Matter the Crisis

April 8, 2020 | Portman Difference

Today, Senator Portman published an op-ed for The Hill highlighting the need for the Senate to pass his bipartisan resolution he introduced with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) 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 conducting its basic constitutional duties and enacting 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. 

“I want to be clear that this measure is not just about being able to cast a vote remotely, but also about putting in place a system to allow for the total continuity of legislative government — to enable senators to continue to carry out all of their constitutional duties of legislating, even when they cannot be in the same room together,” writes Portman. The extraordinary times of today require us to plan for every contingency, and as Congress continues its work to provide economic and health care relief to the millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus, we can't let the pandemic stop us from doing our jobs.” 

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

How the Senate Should Implement Remote Voting in Emergencies

By U.S. Senator Rob Portman

The Hill

April 8, 2020 

It is time for Congress to change its rules to let Members of the House and Senate vote from their states or districts when there is a true national emergency that makes it impossible or unwise to come together in the Capitol. A few weeks ago, I introduced a bipartisan Senate resolution with Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) to do just that. 

The idea of remote voting has been kicking around for years, but it has gotten more attention recently with the coronavirus. In a way, having the capability to vote remotely is similar to what so many others are doing, as millions of jobs have shifted to remote work to slow the spread of the virus.  

Congress has a critical job to do in passing legislation to provide economic and health care relief to the millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus, and to help the economy recover as there is success in stopping the spread of the virus. We cannot let the pandemic stop us from doing our essential work.  

There are legitimate concerns about permitting remote voting, and those need to be addressed. The main challenge to remote voting is security. Any remote voting system would likely be a target for hackers. However, there are ways to make such a system secure. By adopting identity authentication principles that are already common in the private sector today, we can ensure that senators are who they say they are. 

…  

Furthermore, I want to be clear that this measure is not just about being able to cast a vote remotely, but also about putting in place a system to allow for the total continuity of legislative government — to enable senators to continue to carry out all of their constitutional duties of legislating, even when they cannot be in the same room together. The prerogative of each senator to not just vote but also debate and amend legislation must not be diminished. 

 

It is critical we have in place the necessary measures to ensure the continuity of government, no matter the crisis. Today it is the coronavirus, but tomorrow it may be an act of terrorism. 

The Senate is an institution built on tradition. However, extraordinary circumstances have changed those traditions before. Recall that senators used to be elected by state legislatures. The realities of the 21st century require us to alter the tradition of in-person voting when there is a true emergency, and thus ensure that the legislative branch and the people we represent are heard, especially during a crisis. Isolationist senators filibustered legislation to protect American ships crossing the Atlantic. In the creation of cloture, history gives us inspiration for how to navigate the tension between tradition and crisis. The extraordinary times of today require us to plan for every contingency, and as Congress continues its work to provide economic and health care relief to the millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus, we can't let the pandemic stop us from doing our jobs.

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