A proposed bill to give the District a voting representative in Congress is scheduled to reach the Senate floor this week, marking a historic moment for a city without a vote in the Capitol.
D.C. currently has one non-voting elected official in the House of Representatives, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton. The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007, sponsored in the Senate by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), would give the District one voting representative in the House. The bill passed in the House last spring.
Amid concern that the District representative would be a Democrat, the bill seeks bipartisan support by giving an additional seat to Utah – a predominantly Republican state.
“We’ve already achieved a great victory by getting this bill to the Senate floor,” said Kevin Kiger, communications director for D.C. Vote, a non profit organization. “I think we are finally ready to bring democracy to our capital.”
Kiger said he hopes this important legislation does not lose momentum within the congressional bureaucracy.
“A voting rights bill has not been filibustered since segregation,” Kiger said. “And we hope the senators don’t see a need to go back to those dark days.”
If the bill passes an initial procedural vote, the Senate will most likely vote this week or next week. If it is approved, the bill will then be sent to President George W. Bush, who said last winter he would veto the legislation because it violates the Constitution.
Critics of the bill have said that it is unconstitutional because only states can elect delegates to the House of Representatives. The Constitution says that the House “shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.” The bill’s supporters contend that Congress has the power to govern the capital city in “all matters whatsoever” – and can therefore grant them representation.
Hatch, Lieberman, Norton and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) drafted a letter in support of the bill printed in The Washington Post Sept. 12.
“We do not believe that the nation’s founders, fresh from fighting a war for representation, would have denied representation to the residents of the new capital they established,” they wrote in the letter.
On Monday afternoon, city leaders including Mayor Adrian Fenty will hold a press conference in front of the Senate to pledge their support for the bill.
D.C. Vote representatives are encouraging constituents to call their senators to express their opinion on the legislation. They are also sponsoring toll-free calls to senators.
Kiger said, “Hearing from constituents means a great deal to senators because every one person that calls represents hundreds or thousands (of people) within the state.”