How the House's new remote voting will work
(CNN) -- Amid the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers are poised to be able to vote by proxy in the House of Representatives this week following a historic rules change to allow the chamber to operate remotely for the first time in its more than 200-year history.
The rules change, pushed through by House Democrats over Republican opposition earlier this month, permits lawmakers who cannot or do not want to travel to Washington during the pandemic to designate other members to serve as proxies and cast votes on their behalf and at their direction.
It's the latest example of how the pandemic has brought major changes to Capitol Hill and forced lawmakers to reevaluate how to conduct legislative business.
House Democrats have argued that the rules change was necessary to continue working safely and efficiently during the coronavirus crisis.
Republicans in both the House and Senate, however, have protested the change as an unnecessary upending of institutional tradition that threatens to concentrate power in the hands of the few.
House Republican leaders plan to file a lawsuit this week challenging the rules change, arguing that it violates the Constitution, according to a GOP leadership aide.
House Republicans hope that the lawsuit will ultimately block the use of remote voting but do not expect it to put a halt to proxy voting as soon as Wednesday.
"I don't think it's realistic for the court to adjudicate this that quickly," the aide said.
How to vote by proxy in the House:
Any member who wants to cast a vote by proxy must first send a signed letter to the House clerk designating a proxy by granting authorization to the member they wish to vote on their behalf. A member can revoke or alter that designation at any time.
Then, whenever a vote is scheduled in the House, the member who plans to use a proxy must communicate via written instruction how they want their vote to be recorded to the member serving as their proxy.
Proxies are required to receive exact instruction from any member using them to cast votes remotely.
Any member can serve as a proxy for up to only 10 other lawmakers.
Members voting remotely, or their staffs, will need to monitor the House floor during votes and be ready to quickly provide exact instruction to their proxies in the event of any unscheduled votes that may crop up.
"In the case of an unscheduled vote, the vote will be held open for sufficient time to allow members to send voting instructions to their proxies," according to a fact sheet released by the majority staff of the House Rules Committee.
A member serving as a proxy for another member will then be authorized to announce from the House floor during a vote how the member they are voting on behalf of is voting -- either yay, nay or present.
According to the fact sheet, "Members serving as proxies would then cast those votes using well cards, and votes would be announced as the cards are received by the tally clerks." As a result, "remote votes by proxy will be announced twice: once by the proxy prior to taking the vote, and once by the reading clerk after the vote is taken."
The rules change authorizes temporary implementation of remote voting by proxy in the event of a public health emergency due to the coronavirus, as well as remote committee proceedings.
The authorization for remote voting and remote committee work will remain valid for a 45-day period, after which it can be extended if the public health emergency persists.
How many lawmakers will use proxy voting?
It is unclear how many House Democrats will make use of the rules change, but as of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 50 members -- all Democrats -- had submitted letters to the House clerk designating proxies to vote on their behalf. That number is expected to grow ahead of the first scheduled votes in the House this week on Wednesday.
Most House Republicans, however, are expected to return to the Capitol to vote in person despite the rules change, underscoring the divide between the parties over how to approach legislating during the pandemic and whether it's safe to return to Washington.
If any Republicans opt to vote remotely, that would undercut the concerns party leaders have raised about the constitutionality and the necessity of the new rules.
Several GOP leadership aides told CNN on Monday morning that they expect most of their members to return when the House is in session Wednesday and Thursday.
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