In order to increase physical distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the House scheduled consideration of a resolution during the week of April 20, 2020, that would have temporarily authorized the use of “proxy” voting on the chamber floor. Speaker Nancy Pelosi subsequently indicated that consideration of the resolution was postponed pending an examination by a bipartisan task force of options to facilitate remote participation by Representatives in committee and floor business. The recent focus on proxy voting has led to interest in the history of the practice in the House. This Insight describes how proxy voting in House committee previously functioned, summarizes arguments made in support of and opposition to the practice, and traces the evolution of chamber rules related to proxy voting in committee.
Proxy Voting in House Committee
Prior to the 104th Congress (1995-1996), Representatives were permitted, under certain limits, to cast votes by proxy in committee. To vote by proxy, an absent Member authorized a second, present Member (usually the chair or ranking minority member) to cast the absent Member’s vote during a committee markup. Under this practice, committee leaders would sometimes cast multiple votes in addition to their own. Clause 2(f) of House Rule XI currently prohibits any Member of a committee or subcommittee from casting a vote on a measure or matter by proxy. Representatives still, however, sometimes vote by proxy in conference committee. There is no ban on proxy voting in Senate rules, and all Senate standing committees permit the practice.
House rules have never authorized proxy voting on the floor, although they have permitted a different, now disused, practice called “pairing,” by which absent Members can publicly indicate how they would have voted if present.
“The Prior Practice of Proxy Voting in House Committee,” CRS Insight IN11372, May 1, 2020 (6-page PDF)