Congress by remote control
As we've discussed before, the reason holds and filibusters and cloture calls and all the rest of it is so effective is because the Senate operates amidst a scarcity of time: There's a lot the majority wants to do and not enough time to do it. But this week, the snow is holding up business, giving Republicans a much-needed break from doing it themselves. Which got Annie Lowrey thinking: Do countries with consistently nasty weather allow their legislatures to vote remotely?
The answer in the United States is no -- though it has been proposed before (pdf). The first country I thought of was Estonia, which has the most tech-savvy government on the planet and, I imagine, rather nasty winters. There, you can cast your national electoral ballot from the comfort of your living room sofa, over the Internet. (There are actually a number of countries and localities that allow this.) But, it seems, members of parliament need to be present to give the up or down on legislation.
I only found one government that allows remote legislative voting -- in, of all places, sunny Catalunya, Spain. In that region, which includes Barcelona, local representatives can request permission to send in their vote from home if they need to tend to a sick family member, for instance. No details on whether they also do it if hit with 22 inches of white stuff.
You rather wonder how Canada gets anything done at all. But putting the weather aside, it's a couple types of crazy that we don't let legislators vote remotely when they're ill. In the past few years, we've seen Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy wheeled into the Senate to cast a deciding vote. Why not let the sick deputize their chief of staff to press the button for them? It's enjoyably romantic to imagine that the presence of legislators assures their deep understanding of an issue, but in practice, whether they're being briefed by staff and cajoled by leadership on an issue they don't understand on the telephone or in person doesn't make much difference.
Photo credit: By Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post
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