Vice Presidential Proxy Voting

96px-Joe_Biden_official_portrait_cropThere have been a few stories recently speculating on how the Senate would function if the November elections resulted in a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats.  The standard answer is that that Joe Biden would have to spend a lot more time on Capitol Hill to cast his tie-breaking vote.  While the practice has always been that a vice-president must cast his Senate vote in person, I wonder if that should be changed.

There are good reasons for not allowing proxy voting by House and Senate members.  You might think part of the duty of being a member is to show up and cast votes.  Verifying the accuracy of proxy votes could also be a problem, especially if an absent member is ill or in some remote place.  Likewise, permitting proxy voting might give party leaders more power than they already possess by effectively delegating votes to them.  (In this respect, you might say that voting in Congress is simply non-delegable.)

The Vice-President, though, is a different kettle of fish.  He isn’t really a member of the Senate.  He is only one person, so establishing the truth of his proxy should be easy.  He will always vote the Administration line, so there is no risk that the Senate Majority Leader will get more discretion as a result of the VPs proxy.   Moreover, the VP often needs to be elsewhere (on a diplomatic mission, in a national security council meeting), such that subjecting him to the whims of the Senate schedule could be a problem.  Why not let him vote by proxy?

I should add (on a related note) that a 50-50 Senate tie could expose the fact that there is no procedure in place to deal with an ill or incapacitated vice-president.  Suppose the VP has a stroke and cannot function for months.  Then all of the ties would be actual ties.  (Proxy voting would reduce but not eliminate this problem–no proxy could occur if the VP was in a coma.)  I do not believe that the Senate was equally divided during one of the periods (prior to the 25th Amendment) where we had no vice-president at all, but I’m not sure.

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9 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    “no proxy could occur if the VP was in a coma”

    No proxy should occur if the VP was in a coma, but if we’re permitting proxy voting, we’re already in uncharted, and arguably unconstitutional, territory.

  2. Gerard says:

    Why would it be unconstitutional?

  3. dht says:

    I don’t think proxy voting would be unconstitutional, per se. However, since the one constitutionally mandated job of the Vice-President is to preside over the Senate, any absence for other reasons, no matter how important, would certainly raise questions. While it is unlikely to happen in the current environment, it is probably better to amend the constitution to allow proxy (or deny) proxy voting by the Vice-President.

  4. Brett Bellmore says:

    Gerard, because the Constitution gives certain powers to the vice-President, and the proxy, rather conspicuously, ISN’T the vice-President. This doesn’t strike me as an obscure argument.

  5. Gerard Magliocca says:

    But the Senate has the power to decide how it’s voting is done, wouldn’t you agree?

  6. dht says:

    The Vice-President, though constitutionally named as President of the Senate, is not a member of the Senate, and therefore probably not subject to Senate rules.

  7. Stefan Privin says:

    Does Article I, Section 3, Clause 5 suggest that the Vice President must be present in the Senate in order for him to exercise his authority as President of the Senate? If so, then the Vice President could not vote by proxy.

  8. Brett Bellmore says:

    “But the Senate has the power to decide how it’s voting is done, wouldn’t you agree?”

    Only insofar as those decisions don’t contradict the Constitution. Using a proxy isn’t a way somebody votes. It’s substituting somebody else to do the voting.

    I see no obstacle written into the Constitution to a VP phoning in his vote. But he does have to be the one casting the vote.

  9. PrometheeFeu says:

    One could argue that by showing up to cast your vote you demonstrate that you at least cared enough to show up. If you can’t be bothered to show up, maybe you shouldn’t be voting.