With at least three members of Congress as well as the spouse of at least one senator testing positive for the coronavirus which has now spread to more than 41,000 Americans and killed more than 450, lawmakers are pushing their leadership to institute new rules allowing for remote voting.
More than 60 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to House leadership on Monday calling for emergency remote voting.
"Requiring members to vote in person may pose public health risks or even be physically impossible for persons under quarantine," the letter reads. "We need to provide a mechanism through which Congress can act during times of crisis without having to assemble in one place."
The call followed the positive coronavirus tests of at least three lawmakers. Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl.) tested positive last week, while Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Sunday he had tested positive. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) husband also revealed Monday he had contracted the coronavirus.
Paul did not self-isolate after getting tested, and crossed paths with other colleagues in the Senate swimming pool while awaiting his results as well as eating with other senators at several lunches.
I took a picture inside the Senate GOP lunch when the door was open Friday and saw Rand Paul seated next to other senators. He is visible in this photo. pic.twitter.com/4qwZo5YdBs
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) March 22, 2020
The news of Paul's diagnosis led Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to self-quarantine. Other lawmakers have also spent weeks in isolation since the coronavirus outbreak reached Capitol Hill earlier this month.
On social media, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) was among those calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other congressional leaders to allow remote voting to ensure members of Congress can negotiate and vote on an economic stimulus package and other legislation without risking contracting the coronavirus.
"Congress should be an example, not an exception, on public health," Porter wrote, as Americans across the country are working from home, staying home from school, and closing restaurants and other small businesses to help curb the outbreak.
When it comes to social distancing and public health best practices, Congress should be an example, not an exception.
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— Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) March 18, 2020
According to CBS News, a swift rules change is unlikely. The last significant amendment to voting rules in Congress happened in 1973—after three years of debate—to allow electronic voting in the Senate and House chambers.
Some in Congress have suggested passing legislation via voice votes or unanimous consent so that all members don't need to be present and have argued remote voting is not feasible because it could open the door to court challenges to any bills passed remotely.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) slammed some of his colleagues for their reluctance to adapt to the current public health crisis, as millions of Americans have.
"There are a bunch of so-called institutionalists who are resisting remote voting but we could soon lack a quorum due to mandatory self quarantine," Schatz tweeted. "We MUST operate like plenty of American corporations and other organizations and enable voting electronically or by phone."
Other political observers called on members of Congress to view their current dilemma as a catalyst for rethinking how all voting works in the U.S. democratic process.
Congress needs remote voting for contingencies like coronavirus. But regular voters need mail voting for the same reason. It's pretty worrying that there isn't much discussion of the latter, at least on the federal level. https://t.co/TZYQbU5WO0
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 23, 2020
"If the GOP supports remote voting for members of Congress," ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd tweeted, "then Democrats should insist the same privilege be given to voters in elections through vote at home, vote by mail, etc."