Proxy option fuels record-setting House vote participation rate

36 House members, 11 senators cast every roll call vote in 2021

GOP Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who is not running for reelection and did not use a proxy option adopted in response to the coronavirus pandemic, missed the most votes in the House in 2021, a CQ Roll Call analysis found. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
GOP Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who is not running for reelection and did not use a proxy option adopted in response to the coronavirus pandemic, missed the most votes in the House in 2021, a CQ Roll Call analysis found. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 2, 2022 at 10:00am

House members hit a record in voting participation last year, aided by creative scheduling and widespread use of proxy voting in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. 

Even as roll call votes were scheduled around COVID-19 outbreaks and to minimize partisan disputes, House members on average participated in a record 98 percent of the 448 roll call votes taken in the chamber last year, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis. That’s the highest rate of vote participation in the House since 1953, when Congressional Quarterly first began tracking this trend. 

Thirty-six House members — 25 Democrats and 11 Republicans — participated in all 448 roll call votes held last year. 

House members were aided by emergency rules adopted in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic that allowed them to cast votes without being on the House floor by designating a colleague who was there as their proxy.

GOP sues, then uses rule

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and 160 other Republican members filed a lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House clerk, protesting that the practice was unconstitutional. 

By the time the Supreme Court declined in January 2022 to hear McCarthy’s challenge, about 70 percent of those Republicans who joined the lawsuit had themselves taken advantage of the rule by asking a lawmaker present in the chamber to record them as “yea” or “nay.” 

In all, 351 House members — 204 Democrats and 147 Republicans took advantage of the opportunity to designate a voting proxy in 2021. All told, 17,314 proxy votes were announced by lawmakers from the floor, the CQ Roll Call analysis found, accounting for 9.1 percent of all votes cast in the House. 

“There are more folks using it intermittently,” Molly Reynolds, senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, said in a phone interview. “We’ve started to get some situations where folks are voting by proxy and then very clearly doing something else with their time other than coming to the House floor to vote.”

Some members, for example, voted by proxy while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2021, she said.

Texans at top and bottom of list

Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, maintained a perfect participation rate despite taking parental leave after the birth of his second child in late March last year. In 2019, when his first child was born, Allred missed 25 roll call votes. 

Allred’s Texas Republican colleague, Kevin Brady, had the chamber’s lowest participation rate of 75 percent in 2021. The ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, who is retiring at the end of this term, Brady was one of the few House members to eschew proxy voting and missed 110 roll call votes.

In the Senate, members were able to keep participation levels roughly in line with recent rates despite not being able to vote by proxy. Senators on average weighed in on 96.5 percent of the 528 recorded floor votes, the highest number of Senate roll call votes in 27 years.

Eleven senators — eight Democrats and three Republicans — cast yeas or nays on all 528 of the votes. That was down from 14 senators who didn’t miss a roll call vote in 2020. 

Collins extends streak

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the longest-tenured Republican serving in the chamber, was among the senators with a perfect rate of voting participation in 2021. Grassley’s streak of perfect attendance — 27 years without a missed roll call vote — was broken in November 2020 after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Sen. Susan Collins cast her 8,000th consecutive vote in 2021 and has not missed a single vote since arriving in Congress in 1997. The Maine Republican still trails Grassley’s record of 8,927 consecutive votes. Wisconsin Democrat William Proxmire holds the record of 10,252 consecutive votes cast in the Senate, between April 1966 and October 1988.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., missed the most votes of any senator last year as he spent time with his wife, Jean, who died in November after a lengthy battle with cancer. Rounds participated in 65 percent of all Senate roll call votes last year.