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Voting concerns intensify amid pandemic

John Orona
Staff Writer
Doug LaMalfa

U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, has signed onto a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of proxy voting, a rule change that allows physically present Congress members to vote on behalf of other members and count them as present in meeting quorum while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing.

The new process, enacted last month through House Resolution 956, passed with unanimous opposition from all 185 House Republicans.

The resolution allows one lawmaker to vote for up to 10 other members who designate them in writing to do so. The proxy voter designation may be revoked any time and proxies must vote according to the exact instructions of the member who appointed them. Members designated as proxies can only cast votes on behalf of other Congress members once they have received separate, exact instruction with respect to each vote.

According to LaMalfa though, the change in itself is a dangerous precedent.

“I joined this lawsuit because the U.S. Constitution is the foundation for all laws in this country, and this change in House rules violates our most important governing document,” LaMalfa said in a press release.

“With proxy voting in place, a mere 22 members of Congress could make any decision on any bill. The risks to the republic are too great. Members of Congress are elected to be the voice of the people they represent, not to give away that voice because it is inconvenient for them to travel to D.C.”

LaMalfa has vowed not to use proxy voting.

To date, 74 House members have appointed proxy voters. A full list of proxy voters is available on the House of Representatives’ website.

The lawsuit was filed last week by Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, 19 other House Republicans, and four other plaintiffs who are represented by and claim to have voted for lawmakers who are now designating proxy voters.

The suit, which asks the court to find the resolution unenforceable, argues it violates quorum requirements listed in the Constitution and denies representation to constituents of lawmakers who have designated proxies. If the case is taken up, any legislation enacted while it’s in effect could be put in jeopardy.

ARGUMENTS

The lawsuit’s argument hinges on whether specific wording in the Constitution requiring members of Congress to be “present” means its framers intended lawmakers to physically assemble.

For example, Article I, Section 5, Clause 1 states, “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections . . . and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; . . . and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members.”

According to supporters of the suit, since voting by proxy was possible during the writing of the Constitution and was not included, this means it should not be allowed.

However, Democrats have argued that same section also give each legislative branch the ability to create its own rules, allowing them to change previously enacted rules prohibiting members from casting votes for one another.

Opponents of the suit also contend that the change is needed during the limited scope of the pandemic to get businesses done.

“This change is not permanent; indeed, it is an emergency provision specific to this coronavirus pandemic that must be renewed every 45 days,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said in a speech responding to the suit. “It will not advantage or disadvantage either party. And it does not fundamentally alter the nature of the House or how it operates. There is no ‘dangerous precedent’ here, only a commonsense solution to an unprecedented crisis that demands our ingenuity and adaptability as an institution.”

“The congressman is against any kind of electronic voting or debate whatsoever,” Communications Director for LaMalfa Savannah Glasgow said in an email. “He feels that any kind of voting or proceeding that takes place not in person is in violation of the Constitution.”

The resolution also allows for committees to use videoconferencing for meetings and votes, which according to the suit isn’t challenged because requirements for committees are not specifically addressed in the Constitution.

Glasgow said LaMalfa is also “very skeptical” of mail-in voting, which California Gov. Gavin Newsom last month ordered statewide for the Nov. 3 general election. LaMalfa has pointed to a House Republican report which warns that two 2016 laws allowing mail-in voting and ballot harvesting — the practice of collecting and turning in another voter’s ballot — could be used to their political detriment.

“The congressman feels this practice has been manipulated, and citizens should be able to fully trust the electoral process,” Glasgow said.

Nevada County has used mail-in voting since 2018 and during the last election achieved the third-highest voter turnout in the state. About 67% of registered Nevada County voters participated in the election, compared to 46% statewide.

According to Nevada County Assistant Registrar of Voters Natalie Adona, concerns raised by the congressman haven’t been an issue locally.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that any voter fraud took place in Nevada County in March,” Adona said in an email. “Every ballot that we counted came from a registered Nevada County voter. We took the time, as we always do, to verify the registration status and signature on every ballot, confirm that voters only voted once, and conduct a manual audit of the election.”

06/03: This article was updated to correct Adona’s title.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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