A Democratic House member, Rep. Kai Kahele of Hawaii, is helping Republicans make their case against proxy voting.

As the long-distance voting practice approaches its second anniversary, Republicans have fresh ammunition in their long-standing arguments against it. That came in the form of a recent report Kahele has not voted in person since January — and that he has spent little, if any, time in Washington since as he weighs a bid for governor of the Aloha State.

Kahele wasn't even the worst offender of proxy voting privileges. Three Democratic House members have cast all 125 votes this year remotely: Reps. Al Lawson of Florida, Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, and Albio Sires of New Jersey. Roybal-Allard and Sires are retiring at the end of this congressional term.

Originally intended as a COVID-19 pandemic mitigation effort in May 2020, the House of Representatives adopted proxy voting for the first time in its history in an effort to protect its members from large gatherings in a confined space. The protocol established a temporary method for a member to cast a vote for another member. The Senate adopted no such measure, and it continues to require senators to cast their votes in person.


“Initially and fundamentally, this was a response to COVID,” Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies proxy voting, told the Washington Examiner in an interview. But as the practice approaches its second anniversary, she said, it has “stretched beyond its original intention.”

The resolution permitting proxy voting did not amend current House rules, but it carved out an exception based on the unique circumstances presented by the pandemic and has been implemented in 45-day increments. There is no mechanism to limit its use to COVID-19 infections or the risk thereof. So as the practice lingered, its uses morphed.

Some lawmakers used the provision to attend fundraisers rather than attend votes. Others used the provision in circumstances other employers would have granted family or medical leave — for example, Rep. Colin Allred voted by proxy for a sort of paternity leave after he and his wife welcomed a new child. Rep. Dan Crenshaw voted by proxy while he recovered from an emergency eye surgery. And GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik voted by proxy after giving birth herself.

Stefanik and Crenshaw later became vocal critics of the practice, as did many House Republicans.

House Democrats are reportedly considering ways to keep some form of proxy voting as part of the “new normal” on Capitol Hill, while House Republicans recently sued to stop the practice. But the Supreme Court did not take up their challenge, citing precedent and case law that allows Congress to set its own rules.

Reynolds said her review of congressional voting statistics indicates that in 2020 176 Democratic members used proxy voting and just six Republicans. But in 2021, 202 Democrats and 137 Republicans did so. The data mark a significant jump in Republican use of the practice as some challenge the existence of the provision.

One critic of the practice is Rep. Chip Roy. The Texas Republican told the Washington Examiner in an interview that he views the practice as unconstitutional. Roy said that with limited exceptions in cases in which members tested positive for COVID-19 or were legitimately exposed to the coronavirus, some members have been “lying” when citing the public health emergency in their requests to vote by proxy. A form to vote by proxy reads: “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.”

“They're doing it and lying about it, so that that hurts the institution,” Roy said.

He remained on the House Republican lawsuit challenging the provision after many other members removed their names as they voted by proxy. Roy said since the court didn’t take up the case, he believes Republicans would remove the provision should they win a majority in November.

Some critics of the practice said it removes crucial opportunities for face-to-face debate and compromise.

Congressional Institute President Mark Strand told the Washington Examiner that the problem with proxy voting is that “you're elected to come to Washington and represent your constituents.”

“And no one ever gets everything they want, which means you have to be engaged in the art of compromise and negotiation with your colleagues to be able to get the things that you want, and your constituents need,” Strand said.


Supporters of the practice make arguments ranging from defending it as a necessary COVID-19 mitigation effort to setting the stage for more opportunities for young parents to serve in Congress by permitting longer absences.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed to this report.