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Legislating in the Era of COVID: Zoom Meetings and Electronic Votes

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Members of the Virginia Senate are joining the era of Zoom, voting electronically during a special session.

The Virginia Senate was created in 1776, and since that time it’s served as the upper chamber of the General Assembly. Its districts are larger, its terms are longer and its members tend to be a bit older and more moderate. So perhaps it’s no surprise that some of its members were reluctant to join the Zoom generation. 

“I just think that it would be a very dangerous precedent for us to start embracing voting on Zoom calls," says Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment – opposing the Senate’s first ever virtual vote. He lost that argument, and the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee appropriated $2 million to help finance drop boxes and pre-paid envelopes for the November election.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw says it’s time for the Senate to conduct some of its business online. 

“While I understand what Senator Norment is saying, this is something that I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be doing a lot more of in the future until there’s a foolproof vaccine developed," Saslaw explains. "And this is more than likely unfortunately, Tommy, may be a lot of the way future business is conducted.”

Leaders in the House of Delegates have been more aggressive in trying to move operations online, although they’ve also been stymied by Republican challenges that have delayed action during the first week of the special session. While the House has been waiting in limbo, senators have already taken action – in person – on a number of bills.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.