Supreme Court upholds House remote voting decried by GOP but used by all

Five Georgia Republicans have cast proxy votes, including critics of the practice

WASHINGTON — Nearly every member of the U.S. House has taken advantage of a rule change to cast votes remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, including Republicans who criticize the practice.

Georgia U.S. Reps. Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk were among the original plaintiffs in a legal challenge of the proxy voting rules that Democrats implemented in May 2020. Since then, Hice has voted remotely twice and Loudermilk five times.

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, was among the GOP leaders who signed a letter last year asking for proxy voting to end.

“It is time we follow the science, lead by example, and fully return to work to serve the American people,” the letter said.

Since then, Ferguson has voted remotely twice.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the change. Lower and appeals courts upheld the rule, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the case. That means the previous rulings will stand.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed the rules change during the early stages of the pandemic, saying it was a way to protect the health of lawmakers and staffers by allowing those who were unable or hesitant to travel to still participate. Members can submit letters designating another colleague as their proxy to submit votes on their behalf.

The Brookings Institution says that roughly 80% of members had voted by proxy as of mid-December. That includes all six Democrats in Georgia’s congressional delegation, plus five of eight Republicans. The three who have not voted remotely are U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, Andrew Clyde and Austin Scott.

Remote voting is not allowed in the Senate.

McCarthy has said that he will end proxy voting if Republicans take control of the House after the midterms and he becomes speaker.

Before proxy voting was implemented, members who were sick, had family obligations or got stuck in an airport simply missed votes. Loudermilk, a Republican from Cassville, said that is what happened to him and many other Republicans who refused to vote remotely in 2020 and most of 2021.

That changed when he tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time the House was considering a massive social spending and climate change bill. He said in a statement that it was “the only way I could represent my constituents, to try to stop this bill.”

Ferguson’s office said he voted by proxy after last-minute changes to the House calendar made traveling difficult. Hice’s staff said he used the option in October and December when health reasons prevented him from traveling.

Loudermilk said he worries that remote voting is being abused. Several representatives have been accused of using proxy letters to miss votes on the same days they attended political events.

Members are not required to provide a reason for casting a vote this way; their letter only needs to cite the “ongoing public health emergency.”

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