Recently 70 members of Congress signed a letter to Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern urging Congress to allow its members to use remote voting in times of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. The note, which you can read here, makes a convincing, fact-based argument for the change. Lead author, Representative Eric Swalwell (D, CA-15), cites Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley law school, and well-known Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe on their interpretations of the Constitutional sections that are relevant to the current situation. The tools are available for Congress to work and vote remotely, to allowing it to continue its work and keep this country from collapsing under the strain of this pandemic.
“… using technology in this way is consistent with what millions of American businesses are doing across this country, right now, to deal with COVID-19. Millions of workers at businesses, schools, nonprofits, and local governments are using technology to continue to be productive. Congress should be no exception to adapting to this crisis.”
The European Parliament recently adopted a motion that will allow members to temporarily vote via email. This voting procedure is temporary and valid until July 31. Email voting, however, is perhaps the least secure means for casting remote ballots. But there are other secure and well-established ways to vote remotely.
Estonia, a Balkan country that was once a Soviet state, has become renowned for its remote voting system. It has been used to support binding elections since 2005. While a Congressional system would, no doubt, be different, the underlying technology and design principles of the Estonian system could be adapted to fit the need.
As Swalwell writes, “The opinions of these renowned legal scholars, as well as our own careful study of the Constitution, reassure us that remote voting is consistent with the framework of our democracy.”
This is just one step in many that are likely to change the face of voting – in Congress, state legislatures and for public elections – going forward and forever after. Swalwell and his colleagues are right in advocating for processes that will keep the wheels of democracy turning.