|The D.C. Citizens' Lament|
Like other Americans, the 572,000 citizens of the District of Columbia vote, pay income tax and follow federal laws, but are represented in the U.S. Congress by a lone individual who is denied the right to vote on legislation.
D.C.'s Congressional Representation
Officially classified and treated as a "federal district," rather than a state, the District of Columbia is represented in the House of Representatives by an elected "delegate," currently Eleanor Holmes Norton. The Continental Congress (1774-1789) established the Office of Delegate to represent U.S. territories or districts organized by law. The Constitution, however, makes no reference to the position, and the District of Columbia is not represented in the U.S. Senate.
Along with the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa are also represented by delegates. Puerto Rico is represented by a "resident commissioner," a position created by Congress in 1946.
D.C. Delegate Has Voice, Not Vote
Delegates and the resident commissioner are free to introduce legislation and to participate in debates. Delegates also serve as full members of House committees and subcommittees, where they enjoy the same powers and privileges equal to other Members in committee.
There is, however, one major limitation to the legislative powers and privileges of the delegates -- they are prohibited from voting on any legislative bill, resolution or procedural motion considered by the House. They can propose bills, even argue for them, but when the vote is taken, they can only sit and hope for the best.
D.C. Citizens Seek Full Voting Representation
Since they pay taxes, buy stamps, vote, register for the draft and fulfill all the other responsibilities of U.S. citizenship, D.C. citizens feel that the exclusion of their delegate from voting violates the basic principles of representative democracy. District citizens groups, along with Delegate Norton have long pressed for full voting representation in Congress.
A 1978 constitutional amendment that would have granted voting rights to the District's delegate failed after not being ratified by three-fourths of the states within the seven-year time limit.
Since the failure of the 1978 amendment, many legal experts have concluded that Congress, under its own constitutional authority, grant full voting rights to the District of Columbia's delegate. Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution gives the Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the District.
New Bill Would Allow D.C. Workers to Run for Office
Governmentally, the District of Columbia resembles a typical U.S. city, with one major exception: all paid employees of D.C. government, including public school teachers, are considered employees of the federal government, thus largely disenfranchised from participating in the political system by the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act of 1933 prohibits federal employees from running in partisan elections at any at any level of government and from making or soliciting political contributions.
The April 2001 firing of a D.C. public school teacher for running as a Green Party candidate in the 2000 city council elections prompted D.C. Delegate Norton to introduce H.R. 4617, a bill before Congress that would "amend title 5, United States Code, to eliminate the discriminatory treatment of the District of Columbia under the provisions of law commonly referred to as the 'Hatch Act.'"
According to Del. Norton, her bill would make it possible for District of Columbia employees to participate in the political process without being hindered by "undemocratic and discriminatory" laws.
"The [teacher's] termination is one more way in which the District faces discrimination from the federal government," Norton said. "This case demands the stand-alone bill I introduced … to remove Hatch Act discrimination he has faced and that threatens and chills the rights of every D.C. employee as well."
Norton stated that the case of the teacher, "simply brings home the sad fact that the District of Columbia, and particularly its school teachers, have been singled out in a manner that is a complete affront to fairness, democratic principles, and self government."