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Live Mic: Should Congress be voting remotely? Chris Stewart says no way

FILE PHOTO -- Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY —  Even if they can technically do it, should members of Congress be voting remotely? Utah congressman Chris Stewart says don’t go there.

Congressional lawmakers used a cellphone app starting in the last half of November to remotely cast votes for the first time.

A total of 230 Democrats in the House logged into the app, ‘Markup ERVS’ (Electronic Remote Voting System), on their government-provided iPhones to cast 11 votes over several days for a variety of contested leadership positions, said Markup Spokesperson Colby Redmond, as reported by Reuters.

However, only Democrats are using the app to vote remotely. Republicans said virtual voting sets a bad precedent.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to discuss the precedent and its implications.

The US Constitution does specify that “a majority of each [house] shall constitute a quorum to do business.”

This so-called quorum clause could be interpreted to require most senators and representatives to be present in Washington, D.C.  for Congress to operate. And if that’s how the Supreme Court sees it, the quorum clause could block Congress from returning home and working on a fully remote basis, according to Bloomberg Opinion.

Voting remotely? Yea or nay

“Could you ever imagine yourself voting remotely . . .  say from your home here in Utah?” Lee asked Stewart.

“Yeah, so there’s no question that technologically we can, and you can do it and do it securely, and there’s no question, as well, that I think it’s a bad idea. Congress has changed since they’ve implemented this policy, and it’s changed for the worst,” Stewart said. “And, honestly, you’ve got to be creative to find a way to make Congress worse than it was before.  . . .  We’re hardly an example of the world on efficiency.”

He said the founding fathers envisioned Congress as a congregation. He added that both legislative bodies come together, debate and try to find a compromise. That’s impossible to accomplish with members voting from their homes, he said.

Lee asked if there wasn’t a Zoom-type of technology that would facilitate the sense of being together and working toward a goal as a group.

“It’s difficult to engage in a group conversation,” Stewart said. “You don’t get the one-on-one conversations that are so important.”

He said much of the most important work in Congress happens on the floor of the House or Senate where compromise is worked out between Democrats and Republicans.

“All of that is gone now,” Stewart said. “There are some members who have not been back here [Washington, D.C.] since March. And you’ve heard the story about guys who are calling in and they inadvertently turn on their video. You find out they’re on a sailboat. They’re fishing. Literally showing they’re fishing. They quickly turn it off. It’s not like members are staying home and slaving away. They’re not. We pay a real price for this.”

Stewart told Lee he understood there are members of Congress who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age, but he asked how, once granted, can voting from home be rescinded.

“I’m convinced that we’re worse off for doing it. I wish they wouldn’t do it, and I wish they’d change their minds, Stewart said. ” . . . We [Republicans] made a decision early on we will not do this [vote remotely]. We will come to work. We will be here every week we’re in session.”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.