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EXPLAINER: Proxy Voting in Congress

What is proxy voting?

Proxy voting is the process by which a member of Congress, who expects to be absent from a vote, gives permission to a chairman, ranking member, or possibly another member to cast a vote on his or her behalf.

Where is proxy voting allowed?

Senate committees currently allow their members to vote by proxy in committees, with differing rules from committee to committee on how they operate.  The House of Representatives utilized proxy voting in its committees prior to the 104th Congress in 1995.  When the new Republican majority and Speaker Newt Gingrich took office, proxy voting was eliminated because of perceived abuses.

How does proxy voting work?

There are a variety of forms of proxy voting.  Typically, a senator fills out a one-page form and signs it, delegating his or her vote to the chairman or ranking member.  The delegation may be subject to certain limits, on a particular vote or matter, or might be more generally delegated for all of the matters considered in a hearing.   Committee rules and practices differ.

Is there proxy voting on the floor?

No.  And there would likely be a dispute as to whether proxy voting would be constitutional for final passage votes on the floor of the House or Senate.

Could proxy voting be used to facilitate the votes of absent members?

Proxy voting might be used to facilitate the operation of committees when members are absent.  There would still be questions about whether a committee quorum had been assembled, but in theory, committees might operate effectively with quite a few of its members absent.  And Congress could design mechanisms for members of committees to give the substance of their vote by statement or perhaps by video, with the actual vote being cast by a chair or ranking member using the proxy.

The House of Representatives could adopt the practice of proxy voting in committee, perhaps as a time-limited rule for the duration of the crisis.

More speculatively, perhaps the Senate and House could devise proxy or proxy like procedures to allow for voting on a preliminary vote on the Senate or House floor, with a final passage vote taken using more traditional methods.

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