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District Gets Boost in Bid for Voting Rights

The Washington Informer, News Report, Talib I. Karim Posted: Feb 20, 2009

A Senate panel last week gave a boost to the Districts bid for full political rights, at least in one house of Congress. On Wed. Feb. 11, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill designed to give citizens of the District a regular Member of the House of Representatives, with full voting rights.

Last weeks vote of approval creates new optimism that the bill, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, may actually become law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced plans to bring the bill up for consideration by the full Senate as early as Mon. Feb. 23.

Since the Districts formation over 200 years ago, residents of the nations capital have been denied political rights afforded to other U.S. citizens. During the past two centuries, District residents have been inching their way closer to full citizenship. A District Council website (http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/dcgovernmenthistory) provides a detailed summary of D.C.s drive for full citizenship rights.

The web site states that in 1802, the City of Washington was incorporated as a council form of government. Seventy years later, a new form of government, the District of Columbia, was established, complete with a governor, two-chamber legislative assembly, and non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives. Yet, after just three years, this form of government was revoked.District citizens remained voiceless in Congress for nearly the next 100 years. In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, signed a law reinstating the Districts non-voting House delegate. Walter E. Fauntroy was elected the following year as just the second Delegate to represent DC residents in Congress.

The difference between a Member of Congress and a Congressional Delegate is that under federal law, Delegates receive the same compensation, staff allowances, and other benefits as regular Members of the House of Representatives. However, House Delegates have limited rights to vote on legislation, the fundamental power of Members of Congress. Further, the limited voting rights Delegates do enjoy may be altered by a mere majority vote of the lower congressional chamber. There are no such delegates in the Senate.

S.160, and its companion legislation in the House, H.R. 157, would increase the total number of Representatives in the House from 435 to 437, adding one for the District and one for Utah. A similar bill fell three votes short of a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate during the last Congress, thus dooming the legislation even though it passed by a wide margin in the House. District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton suggests the congressional seat for Utah was added to win Republican support for the legislation.

However, the recent effort to pass the Federal Stimulus suggests that creating a compromise around the DC Voting Rights Bill may be difficult. The Senate version of the bill contains an amendment that sets up a roadblock for the District to secure representation in the U.S. Senate.

Congress by statute cannot create Senate representation for the District, representation specifically reserved to the states by our Constitution, said the author of that particular provision, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Collins was one of three Republicans to cast a vote in support of the stimulus package.

Support of the DC Voting Rights bill is a step in the right direction, said District At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown. However, Brown opposes any legislation that offers the District a full seat in the House while closing the door for D.C. residents gaining full representation in the Senate. District residents deserve better than second-class citizenship.

Related Articles:

Despite Democratic Gains Voting Rights Uncertain

Korean Immigrants Welcome Return of Voting Rights

Rights Lawyers Await Obama's Appointment of New Civil Rights Chief

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