2/3 of Michigan U.S. House members have voted by proxy during pandemic

Practice has become business as usual in the lower chamber

By: and - August 23, 2021 3:32 am

U.S. Capitol. | Russ Rohde/Getty Images

WASHINGTON —Data from roll call votes shows that 171 U.S. House Democrats and 89 Republicans have voted by proxy at least once since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  authorized the pandemic-era practice beginning last year.

Pelosi has now announced the extension of proxy voting until Oct. 1 as the Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., so remote voting — just like remote work — doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

The system, heavily criticized by Republicans, although they’ve used it, has also allowed Pelosi to ensure her slim majority in the House, with 220 Democrats to 212 Republicans.

Top 10 Republicans voting by proxy

  1. Vern Buchanan, Florida (106)
  2. Gregory Steube, Florida (74 )
  3. Markwayne Mullin, Oklahoma (72)
  4. John Carter, Texas (58)
  5. Dan Crenshaw, Texas (58)
  6. Patrick McHenry, North Carolina (57)
  7. Robert Aderholt, Alabama (56)
  8. Mark Amodei, Nevada (56)
  9. Brian Babin, Texas (56)
  10. Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee (51)

In practice, it means a member of the House who’s not on the floor can designate another member to cast his or her vote.

The vote data, compiled by Cronkite News/Arizona PBS, shows that the top 10 proxy voters among Democrats include Donald Payne of New Jersey and Frederica Wilson of Florida in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots. Payne and Wilson voted by proxy on 242 votes, or 95% of the time, the data shows.

Al Lawson of Florida and Ann Kirkpatrick and Raul Grivalja of Arizona also made the top 10. Their offices did not respond to requests for comment.

The hand tally by Cronkite News/Arizona PBS took into account 254 House roll call votes from Jan. 1 through July 29 and included only proxy votes, so it did not take into account votes for which a member was present or simply absent.

Republicans have said they think the proxy voting is unconstitutional. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R-Calif.), filed a lawsuit last year along with 20 other House GOP members challenging voting by proxy.

Members who joined the suit and who also used proxy voting include Reps. Russ Fulcher of Idaho and Mark Green of Tennessee. Fulcher cast 45 votes by proxy, or 17% of all votes. Green cast 10 votes by proxy, or about 4%. Fulcher, who was diagnosed with renal cancer this year and is undergoing chemotherapy, declined to comment and Green’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Top 10 Democrats voting by proxy

  1. Donald Payne, New Jersey (242)
  2. Frederica Wilson, Florida (242)
  3. Al Lawson, Florida (240)
  4. Grace Napolitano, California (240)
  5. Bobby Rush, Illinois (239)
  6. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona (222)
  7. Raul Grijalva, Arizona (221)
  8. Alan Lowenthal, California (218)
  9. Grace Meng, New York (216)
  10. Ted Lieu, California (196)

Michigan votes

Nine of the 14 Michigan members of Congress have used proxy voting in the pandemic era — or about two-thirds of the delegation.

Two Michigan U.S. House members have publicly disclosed they’ve tested positive for COVID-19: U.S. Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) and Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland). Neither of them have voted by proxy.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) has cast the most proxy votes in the delegation with 53, followed by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) with 33 and U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.) with 16. None of their offices responded for requests for comment for this story.

McClain, along with U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) — who took zero proxy votes — are the only two members who first began serving in Congress this term in January 2021.

McClain has been a vocal critic of proxy voting, writing on Twitter in May, "Proxy voting must end, and lawmakers should return and do their jobs. We are here to represent the people, voting by proxy takes away that representation." That was in response to an article about seven Michigan House Democrats using the proxy voting system while participating in a Dearborn event with President Joe Biden.

However, McClain voted by proxy on June 29 and 30 while at the southern border for an event with former President Donald Trump. According to the House clerk documents, McClain cited the “ongoing public health emergency” as her reason for having to remotely cast her roll-call votes both days. However, the freshman congresswoman was with Trump and other House Republicans in southern Texas for press events.

A McClain spokesperson said at the time the congresswoman has not changed her views on proxy voting but rather is playing by the same rules as Democrats.

U.S. Reps. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) and John Moolenaar (R-Midland) cast no proxy votes.

Other members who voted by proxy are U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), who voted 10 times; U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) with 10; U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) with six; U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) with 14; U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) with six; and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) with four.

Only Levin responded to a request for comment and said that he's "grateful" for the option during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Voting by proxy allows for Members of Congress to do our jobs despite the pandemic. Personally, I’m grateful to have been able to represent the voices of Ninth District constituents with my vote while not physically in Washington. With new variants still emerging, I’m pleased Speaker Pelosi has extended the ability to vote by proxy until October 1. We still need to be doing whatever we can to get COVID under control," Levin told the Advance in a statement.

U.S. Reps. Andy Levin and Elissa Slotkin attend President Joe Biden's remarks on his American Jobs Plan and the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck at the Ford Motor Co. Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, where the truck will be produced, on Tuesday, May 18. Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance

Exposure to virus

The system has helped members cast their votes if they have tested positive for the coronavirus or needed to quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus.

It’s also helped keep older members home until they could receive the vaccine. More than 620,000 people have died from COVID-19.

“Proxy voting in the House was, and is, the best available option that the House has for keeping members safe during a pandemic while also allowing it to continue doing its regular business,” Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington, told States Newsroom.

Reynolds added that earlier this year, as more members became vaccinated, and prior to the spread of the Delta variant, members were using proxy voting for convenience rather than for health concerns.

“There have been more votes cast by proxy on fly-in and fly-out dates,” she said, referring to days that the House was going into or out of session. “So those in the current Congress, we’ve seen more votes by proxy on those days.”

Dozens of House Republicans also cast their votes by proxy during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) back in February, according to roll call records.

For example, Rep. Ted Budd, (R-N.C.), cast 12 votes by proxy while he attended CPAC. Budd introduced last year H.R. 7044, the “No Pay for Proxy Voting Act,” which would withhold a member’s pay for a day if that representative votes by proxy. A spokesman for Budd told CBS News that he was forced to vote by proxy after the schedule was rearranged at the last minute and he remains philosophically opposed to proxy voting. The spokesman said Budd donated his salary for the days he proxy voted to the North Carolina Restaurant Workers Relief Fund.

Democrats also used the system to attend events with President Joe Biden.

In late June, Rep. Ron Kind, (D-Wis.), cast 11 votes by proxy while he appeared with the president to talk about vaccines and Biden's infrastructure bill. Kind has cast 31 votes by proxy.

In the top 10 of Republicans who cast the most votes by proxy are two Floridians — Reps. Vern Buchanan, in the No. 1 spot for the GOP,  who cast 106 votes by proxy, or 41%, and Gregory Steube, who cast 74 votes by proxy, or 29% of all votes. Their offices did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. House of Representatives chamber is seen December 8, 2008 in Washington, DC. | Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

More proxy voting to come

Pelosi has extended the proxy voting policy 11 times.  The last extension was set to run out Aug. 17 before she announced a new date of early October.

It’s unclear how long Pelosi will continue to implement the system, but with the surge of the Delta variant, Reynolds doesn’t see an end to it.

“I think we may see some members apprehensive about transferring the disease to their family members,” she said, adding that members with children who are too young to be vaccinated might want to continue using proxy voting.

Advance reporter Laina G. Stebbins contributed to this story.


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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.