Rep. Eric Swalwell has long been a proponent of allowing lawmakers to do more official work — including some floor votes — from remote locations. With the alarm over coronavirus infections increasing every day, the California Democrat is reintroducing a bipartisan resolution that would make the House more mobile.
Swalwell’s legislation would only apply to a few activities in the House. Members would be able to participate in committee hearings without having to be in the room, and the measure would “mandate the development of a secure remote voting system” for use only on the noncontroversial legislation that the House does under its “suspension of the rules” calendar.
The Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone (MOBILE) Resolution, as Swalwell filed it during the previous Congress, has Republican Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas as its top co-sponsor. There is no companion bill for the Senate.
“Modern technology belongs in Congress and my resolution would allow Members to not only spend more time with their constituents and their families, but would prove useful for a number of situations, including the public health crisis in which we currently find ourselves,” Swalwell said in a news release.
Several members of Congress have opted to self-quarantine as the U.S., in general, prepares for an increase in cases of the COVID-19 illness caused by a novel coronavirus first identified in China.
The legislation does not specify any particular technology for achieving its goals.
“The ability for Members of Congress to vote remotely if need be has been technologically feasible for decades,” Crawford said in the news release. “The ongoing Coronavirus outbreak underscores the need for Congress to embrace what the 21st Century has to offer.”
Although mobile voting systems for general elections have faced skepticism from cybersecurity experts and some lawmakers, remote votes from just a few hundred lawmakers presumably would be easier to track and validate.
Witnesses for House hearings also would be able to use the remote-participation technology.
The proposal also comes as the House has increased its attention on modernizing the technology it uses to do business. On Tuesday the House passed a resolution to implement the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The newly created panel issued several recommendations last year, including ideas for increasing the tech expertise of members and their staffs, and making it easier for them to test out new technologies in an official capacity.
This is the fourth consecutive Congress during which Swalwell has introduced his resolution. It did not get a vote in the 2017-18 sessions. The House Rules Committee has jurisdiction over the measure.