Why can’t state Rep. Matt Gabler continue to vote in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives while he is on Army military deployment in the Middle East?
Yes, yes. There are good and sound reasons for requiring legislators on federal, state and local levels to attend meetings in person.
But in this age of the Internet, of Skype and Face Time, of global communications, it should be possible for Rep. Gabler, an experienced five-term legislator, to fulfill his obligation to represent the people of his Elk/Clearfield counties district that includes the DuBois area while he is also fulfilling his military obligation.
It is highly unlikely that Gabler would be called upon to do such voting from foxholes. He is a captain in the Army National Guard, and will be a medical logistics officer, not a front-line combat commander.
Allowing absentee voting by legislators does threaten the fundamental concept of discussion, debate and decision-making that underpins our representative systems of government.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and military service seems to be a perfect test as to whether permitting remote voting by state lawmakers is workable in other situations, e.g., hospitalization. In Gabler’s case, there is no question of disability or loss of cognitive functions; the man is smart, savvy and fully engaged in the governmental/political process.
Would Gabler have the time and access to legislative sessions to be fully informed and prepared to vote? Right now, we just don’t know, because the presumption has been that Gabler can vote on committee matters, but not on floor questions.
That inability to vote deprives those of us who live within Gabler’s district of our representation as the Legislature tackles difficult, important issues: Taxes, budgets, pensions, drug abuse, etc.
Of course, if Gabler himself decides that he cannot responsibly keep up with legislative issues without shirking his Army duties, that should settle the matter.
But if Gabler says he can try an experiment, and if House colleagues concur, what’s the harm?
As to Gabler’s situation, well, voters have known throughout Gabler’s legislative career that he also is a career military officer, and have regularly returned him to office.
But this deployment presents an opportunity to test the technology that seems to make it feasible for Gabler to cast legislative votes from afar. This could be a bellwether for other instances of remote voting — or a cautionary tale to not pursue it.
It seems to be an experiment worth pursuing.
— Denny Bonavita