Voting by proxy becomes business as usual in the U.S. House

By: - August 21, 2021 9:00 am

The U.S. House is shown here in a file photo from October 2019. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Data from roll call votes shows that 171 U.S. House Democrats and 89 Republicans have voted by proxy at least once since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  authorized the pandemic-era practice beginning last year.

Pelosi has now announced the extension of proxy voting until Oct. 1 as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., so remote voting — just like remote work — doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

The system, heavily criticized by Republicans, although they’ve used it, has also allowed Pelosi to ensure her slim majority in the House, with 220 Democrats to 212 Republicans.

In practice, it means a member of the House who’s not on the floor can designate another member to cast his or her vote.

The vote data, compiled by Cronkite News/Arizona PBS, shows that the top 10 proxy voters among Democrats include Donald Payne of New Jersey and Frederica Wilson of Florida in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots. Al Lawson of Florida and Ann Kirkpatrick and Raul Grivalja of Arizona also made the top 10. Their offices did not respond to requests for comment.

Payne and Wilson voted by proxy on 242 votes, or 95% of the time, the data shows.

The hand tally by Cronkite News/Arizona PBS took into account 254 House roll call votes from Jan. 1 through July 29 and included only proxy votes, so it did not take into account votes for which a member was present or simply absent.

Axne faced GOP criticism for remote voting

Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, is the only Iowa lawmaker who recorded proxy votes. She voted by proxy 39 times, according to the Cronkite News/Arizona PBS data. During the 2020 campaign, Axne’s Republican opponent criticized her for casting votes by proxy.

“You have to show up to work in Iowa. If you don’t show up to work, you don’t last too long,” former U.S. Rep. David Young said during a televised debate against Axne in October 2020.

Axne responded by comparing her action to the remote work that thousands of Iowans were doing during the pandemic: “At what point will you accept that virtual work is work?”

Republicans have said they think the proxy voting is unconstitutional. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., filed a lawsuit last year along with 20 other House GOP members challenging voting by proxy.

Members who joined the suit and who also used proxy voting include Reps. Russ Fulcher of Idaho and Mark Green of Tennessee. Fulcher cast 45 votes by proxy, or 17% of all votes. Green cast 10 votes by proxy, or about 4%. Fulcher, who was diagnosed with renal cancer this year and is undergoing chemotherapy, declined to comment and Green’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Exposure to virus

The system has helped members cast their votes if they have tested positive for the coronavirus or needed to quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus.

It’s also helped keep older members home until they could receive the vaccine. More than 620,000 people have died from COVID-19.

“Proxy voting in the House was, and is, the best available option that the House has for keeping members safe during a pandemic while also allowing it to continue doing its regular business,” Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington, told States Newsroom.

Reynolds added that earlier this year, as more members became vaccinated, and prior to the spread of the delta variant, members were using proxy voting for convenience rather than for health concerns.

“There have been more votes cast by proxy on fly-in and fly-out dates,” she said, referring to days that the House was going into or out of session. “So those in the current Congress, we’ve seen more votes by proxy on those days.”

Dozens of House Republicans also cast their votes by proxy during the Conservative Political Action Conference back in February, according to roll call records.

For example, Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., cast 12 votes by proxy while he attended CPAC. Budd introduced last year H.R. 7044, the “No Pay for Proxy Voting Act,” which would withhold a member’s pay for a day if that representative votes by proxy. A spokesman for Budd told CBS News that he was forced to vote by proxy after the schedule was rearranged at the last minute and he remains philosophically opposed to proxy voting. The spokesman said Budd donated his salary for the days he proxy voted to the North Carolina Restaurant Workers Relief Fund.

Democrats also used the system to attend events with President Joe Biden.

In late June, Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., cast 11 votes by proxy while he appeared with the president to talk about vaccines and Biden’s infrastructure bill. Kind has cast 31 votes by proxy.

In the top 10 of Republicans who cast the most votes by proxy are two Floridians— Reps. Vern Buchanan, in the No. 1 spot for the GOP,  who cast 106 votes by proxy, or 41%, and Gregory Steube, who cast 74 votes by proxy, or 29% of all votes. Their offices did not respond to requests for comment.

More proxy voting to come

Pelosi has extended the proxy voting policy 11 times.  The last extension was set to run out Aug. 17 before she announced a new date of early October.

It’s unclear how long Pelosi will continue to implement the system, but with the surge of the delta variant, Reynolds doesn’t see an end to it.

“I think we may see some members apprehensive about transferring the disease to their family members,” she said, adding that members with children who are too young to be vaccinated might want to continue using proxy voting.

Here are those in each party who most often have voted by proxy:

Top 10 Republicans

  1. Vern Buchanan, Florida (106)
  2. Gregory Steube, Florida (74 )
  3. Markwayne Mullin, Oklahoma (72)
  4. John Carter, Texas (58)
  5. Dan Crenshaw, Texas (58)
  6. Patrick McHenry, North Carolina (57)
  7. Robert Aderholt, Alabama (56)
  8. Mark Amodei, Nevada (56)
  9. Brian Babin, Texas (56)
  10. Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee (51)

Top 10 Democrats

  1. Donald Payne, New Jersey (242)
  2. Frederica Wilson, Florida (242)
  3. Al Lawson, Florida (240)
  4. Grace Napolitano, California (240)
  5. Bobby Rush, Illinois (239)
  6. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona (222)
  7. Raul Grijalva, Arizona (221)
  8. Alan Lowenthal, California (218)
  9. Grace Meng, New York (216)
  10. Ted Lieu, California (196)

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana Figueroa covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance. Before joining States Newsroom, Ariana covered public health and chemical policy on Capitol Hill for E&E News. As a Florida native, she's worked for the Miami Herald and her hometown paper, the Tampa Bay Times. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and NPR. She is a graduate of the University of Florida.

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