Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break

Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday opened the door to looking into remote voting if the coronavirus epidemic prevents lawmakers from returning to Washington for a long period of time.

"If we can't come back for a long time, I think we should explore ... a way to vote remotely only in an emergency situation," he told reporters during a press conference. 

Schumer noted that Democrats were just starting to look at the "legal, constitutional, [and] technical" ramifications, as well as how it would change the Senate as an institution. 


"The Senate is a body where we're supposed to debate and hear one another and be with one another. So I am loathe to get rid of that but, in an emergency, you may have to temporarily," he added. 

The Senate left Washington, D.C., early Thursday morning and is not expected to return until April 20. The House left earlier this month; when leadership will bring lawmakers back is unclear. 

The idea of remote voting has jumped into the national spotlight as the coronavirus has fundamentally changed American life by encouraging "social distancing" in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. 

A broad swath of the Senate is also older than 60, meaning that they fall into an age group that is particularly susceptible to the virus and should avoid the sort of travel and gathering that is routine for the Senate, where lawmakers travel to and from Washington and frequently stand together on the floor.   

A  group of roughly 70 House Democrats wrote to Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass) urging him to alter the House guidelines to allow for remote voting. 


But McGovern, in a report released late Monday, warned that Congress hasn't adopted secure enough technology to ensure it would work effectively.

"While remote voting deserves ... thoughtful study, to create a secure, reliable, and user-friendly system while in the midst of a crisis is not realistic," the report says.

The idea has bipartisan support in the Senate after Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a rules change that would allow Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) to secure temporary remove voting authority in the event of a national crisis. 

The resolution has the backing of 15 additional senators ranging from Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Democratic tensions will only get worse as left loses patience McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats Socially-distanced 'action figure' photo of G7 leaders goes viral MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMcConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats Mark Cuban: ProPublica 'not being honest' about taxes on wealthy On The Money: Bipartisan Senate group rules out tax hikes on infrastructure | New report reignites push for wealth tax MORE (D-Mass.) to GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamProgressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema GOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Lindsey Graham: Dismissal of Wuhan lab leak theory cost Trump 2020 election MORE (S.C.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals What the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill MORE (Alaska). 

But McConnell has rejected the idea for now. Instead, the GOP leader has lengthened vote times and encouraged social distancing. Staff has also started propping open doors to the chamber during the vote so members don't have to touch them on their way in or out. 

“We’ll not be doing that. There are a number of different ways to avoid getting too many people together,” McConnell told reporters earlier this month