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Robert Longley

DC Voting Rights Never So Close

By March 2, 2009

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Citizens of the District of Columbia stand as close as they have ever stood to being represented in the U.S. Congress by a member who can actually vote.

On Feb. 26, after three days of debate, the Senate passed the D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009 by a filibuster-proof margin of 61-37.

"The citizens of the District have fought in every war since the War of 1812 and pay federal taxes yet have had no say on issues of war and peace or how their money is spent," said Sen. Joe Liebermann (ID, Connecticut), cosponsor of the bill in a press release. "That just doesn't make sense."

That’s exactly what D.C. citizens think, having fought since 1978 to get a voting voice in Congress. The District is currently represented in the House by an elected “delegate,” Eleanor Holmes Norton. While Norton can introduce legislation and take part in debates, she cannot vote. The D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009 would change that by increasing the number of representatives in the House from 435 to 437, adding one seat for the District of Columbia and one for the State of Utah, next state in line for a new House seat according to the 2000 census.

A similar bill in the House (H.R. 157), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 25, and is expected to be voted on by the full house soon. Should the House version of the D.C. Voting Rights Act pass, both versions of the bill would then have to be reconciled. In the last Congress, the House passed a D.C. voting rights bill by a vote of 241-177, but in the Senate, the bill fell three votes short of the filibuster-proof 60 votes needed for passage.

A 1978 constitutional amendment that would have granted voting rights to the District's delegate failed to win ratification by three-fourths of the states. After the failure of the 1978 amendment, legal experts concluded that Congress could, under its own constitutional authority, grant full voting rights to the District of Columbia's representative. Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution gives the Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the District of Columbia.

“This is a moment of joy and progress,” added Sen. Liebermann. “Finally, the citizens who live in the capital of the free world will have the right to exercise the most basic freedom – the right to choose who governs them.”

Photo: DC Residents Rally, by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Also See:
Bill Would Give D.C. Voting Rights in House (2007)
The D.C. Citizens' Lament
Voting Rights in Washington, DC (Civil Liberties)

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