Remote Humphrey project supports Congressional voting by proxy
Marco Konopacki was looking forward to
closing out his Humphrey Fellowship year working in House Majority Leader Steny
Hoyer’s Washington, D.C., office. But the novel coronavirus pandemic upended
his plans, and he flew home to Brazil. There he, like the rest of the Maxwell
School’s 2019 cohort, conducted his professional affiliation remotely.
The pandemic also changed Konopacki’s project with Rep.
Hoyer, a democrat who has represented Maryland’s 5th congressional district
since 1981. “My original proposal was to analyze digital tools or digital
approaches the House was working on to open up public participation,” he said. “That
would have been a remarkable experience for me." Instead, Konopacki worked with Rep. Hoyer on a project that
evolved out of restrictions of the global pandemic. Rep. Hoyer was among six
members of the bipartisan Virtual Congress Task Force developing a policy to
allow proxy voting when Congress could not meet in person.
“My internship got narrowed for a very specific
activity that was a very good contribution,” Konopacki said. “I worked to
support the activity to go remote.”
Konopacki was among 11 Hubert H. Humphrey
fellows from 10 emerging democracies and developing countries who spent the
year at the Maxwell School partaking in graduate study, professional
development and cultural exchange. Professional affiliations, typically
six-week internships, are a requirement of the Humphrey program.
Konopacki prepared research that supported the
May 15 passage of House Resolution 965, which authorizes remote voting by proxy during
the public health emergency due to the coronavirus. Congressional
representatives voting by proxy must send letters electronically to the House
clerk. They must identify their proxy designee and instruct the proxy how to
vote on each question on the floor. The proxy rule is temporary, but it can be
extended during the health emergency.
Some Republicans opposed the resolution, arguing
that remote voting “would break up democracy.”
In some countries, lawmakers were working even
before the pandemic to update technology and procedures to legislate during
emergencies. “In Brazil we got entirely remote action, including meetings and
voting,” Konopacki said. “That happened because the House was getting prepared
in prior years and getting the staff to support it.”
The pandemic showed Congress “they must move
forward on digital proceedings,” he said. “Even though they did not implement
the most innovative ways, we got at least some small pieces to spark this
normative view in Congress.”