116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The U.S. Constitution makes it pretty clear that it wants members of Congress to actually be there when they cast their votes. It also, however, lets each legislative body set its own rules. The House of Representatives set a pretty audacious rule in March of 2020 with the passage of House Resolution 965, which established the ability for its members to vote remotely by proxy.
The idea behind proxy voting in the U.S. House of Representatives was so members would be able to vote without COVID-19-related circumstances getting in the way, so I was pretty disgusted when I learned that Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District designated a proxy while vacationing with her family in France. Call it the quintessential example of why I hate proxy voting: It is ripe for misuse. Axne filed her Aug. 12 proxy letter citing the same reason listed by every other representative voting that day: “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.”
Yes, that takes gall, but the most objectionable part of that whole thing to me isn’t the fact that Axne chose to take liberties with the use of her proxy. It’s that she was one of 158 members of Congress representing both parties to do so that day. While Democrats made up the top 15 most frequent users of proxies in 2021 (all but one of whom voted by proxy more than they did in person,) many Republicans seemed to warm up to it after their initial opposition. While only seven Republican members voted by proxy in 2020, 114 of them — more than two thirds of the GOP caucus — designated a proxy in 2021.
Positions on proxy voting of Iowa’s four members of the House of Representatives vary in both principle and in practice. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks of southeast Iowa appeared on Fox and Friends Weekend on Sept. 24 to opine that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Sept. 23 decision to extend proxy voting was “all about making sure they have enough members to vote for the next week while they’re campaigning in their district.” Miller-Meeks has four proxy letters on record between November 2021 and September of this year, citing the same public health emergency as justification. There is no indication that the time of the votes covered by her proxy was used for campaigning.
“Proxy voting was instituted at the offset of the pandemic and immediately abused by several of my colleagues,” Miller-Meeks said in a statement. ”Mask requirements, social distancing, and other covid restrictions have since been lifted, yet the Speaker continues to extend proxy voting for no clear reason other than political gain. Each time I have used the practice, I have had a legitimate, official business excuse—the same cannot be said for others in the House.”
Congressman Randy Feenstra of northwest Iowa has not voted by proxy at all since he took office in January 2021. Nor has Congresswoman Ashley Hinson, who represents most of northeast Iowa. “Members of Congress need to show up for work and give 100%, not use ‘the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic’ as an excuse to blow off the most fundamental aspect of our job: giving a voice to those we represent through our votes,” said Hinson through a statement provided by her staff. “Our constituents go to work every single day and Congress should too — it is time to end the lazy and disrespectful practice of proxy voting. I’ve never voted by proxy and I never will.”
Congresswoman Axne, who represents southwest Iowa and the Des Moines metro, is the only of Iowa’s four House members to favor proxy voting both in practice and position. Her 14 letters on file with the House clerk have granted proxy to eight separate colleagues over the last two years. In May, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported from a data gathered by Cronkite News/Arizona PBS that as of May 1, 2022, Axne cast 120 of her 614 votes by proxy, or about 16%. While the current rule authorizing proxy voting is set to expire on Nov. 10, Axne would like to see it not only continue, but expand: “I believe there should be opportunity for folks to be able to vote by proxy in general,” she stated in an interview for WHO TV in Des Moines.
So, offer more proxies and maybe they’ll abuse the privilege less, says the congresswoman who cited a public health emergency in writing while taking a French vacation in reality. I don’t buy it. If the single legitimate purpose for which it exists now is already exploited by 158 members for as many as 158 different reasons during a single vote, I’m not exactly confident that adding more qualifiers would quell the misuse. In a way, it’s ironic — so often we criticize our officials by telling them they spend too much time in Washington and not enough time in their communities. Yet when it comes to the one thing for which we want them there, too many of them are anywhere else.
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Updated Saturday Oct. 8th: This column was updated to include a statement from Congresswoman Marianette Miller-Meeks.