It's time to consider creating a remote voting system for Congress
© Greg Nash

A nation must be adaptable and resourceful in times of crisis like a pandemic caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19). That’s why it is time for Congress to seriously consider setting up a remote voting system that is verifiable and secure.

Our primary responsibilities are to uphold the Constitution and represent our constituents to the best of our abilities. We cast votes on the House floor and participate in the legislative processes here in Washington nearly every week. At the same time, we must balance our activities in the nation’s capital with our obligations back home.

With members of Congress now self-quarantining due to exposure to COVID-19, we should revisit the feasibility of remote voting.

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I advocate for limited online voting for members of Congress on roll call votes to both ease pressure and boost the productivity of Congress. The suggestions I am making are similar to when the House switched from paper ballots to voting cards.

Members should not have to be forced to leave a community in crisis to come to Washington and vote on the House floor. I understand that making tough choices is part of the job, but I know that I am not alone in looking for ways to use the tools we have at our fingertips to alleviate some of that pressure to be in two places at once.

Countries like Australia, Japan, and Russia have begun implementing even more complex systems for their elections.

West Virginia even has a limited system in place for the service men and women in our Armed Forces.

States like Massachusetts have proposed general remote voting and even remote voting from committee rooms.

I believe approaches like these could be implemented and make us more efficient, but for now I am proposing limited use for members given this time of crisis.

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We could use things like the Congressional App Challenge to build a baseline to work from or things like the Department of Defense’s bug bounty program to identify vulnerabilities in the system and work to reduce risk.

It is time to modernize Congress using existing and available technologies.

Currently, many members and congressional staff use applications on our official devices that use two or three factor authentications in order to securely verify their identity. Voting remotely could be similar. Be it a fingerprint, face scan, or an RSA token, the technology exists. Some places in the United States trust smart phone applications for things like parole and house arrest.

I believe we have the resources to securely implement this change. We already receive official devices with a suite of approved applications; therefore, it would not be a stretch to add one for this limited remote voting.

Foreign countries are interested in using a sophisticated blockchain technology for their parliamentary elections. I am proposing something much simpler than that.

The Select Committee for the Modernization was convened to modernize Congress, and I believe we have a perfect opportunity to be ahead of the curve for once by using secure, pre-existing technology and resources.

Why must the urgent and dire business of the nation in times of crisis be limited to an archaic system of voting? Our constituents expect us to be able to do our jobs and we should not be limited by geography.

More importantly, as we stare down the barrel of this pandemic, we risk the health and safety of the members, staff, interns and others who live and work in our nation’s capital.

We need to adapt with cutting-edge technology to meet the challenges our nation expects of us. The time to act is now.

Vicente Gonzalez represents the 15th District of Texas.