It’s time for Congress to follow the rest of the country and work remotely. That means taking unprecedented steps that both houses have resisted for years. While it would be a good thing to expand remote-voting capacity permanently, now is not the time to leverage a crisis into long-term reforms; short-term measures that prove workable can be assessed later for their long-term viability. Remote voting should be passed immediately as a short-term emergency measure and reevaluated after the present crisis has passed.
Remote voting could never be a full substitute for the presence of Congress in Washington. Our representatives frequently need to meet with each other and their staffs and receive briefings, many of them involving information that is more securely delivered in person in the Capitol than over any network. Public hearings require physical presence. But much of Congress’s staff work could already be done outside D.C., and the challenges of security for 535 people voting on bills are not significant. If necessary, each member could still have a (younger, D.C.-resident) staff proxy on site to verify the vote cast. Remote voting would ensure that the business of Congress could go on without large physical gatherings of infected or vulnerable representatives. If it proves workable, it could also lengthen the amount of time members of Congress could spend in their home states and districts without ignoring their core duties.
The need is bipartisan, but it would prevent the vagaries of illness from unsettling the partisan balance of power.