District residents could be granted long-awaited voting representation in the U.S. Congress within the next month, according to a local advocacy group.
“We are reeling here from how quickly things are moving,” said Kevin Kiger, communications director for D.C. Vote, a local organization dedicated to getting a voting representative from D.C. in Congress.
After the 111th Congress opened last week, lawmakers introduced legislation in both chambers that would give the District a voting representative in the House of Representatives, and Kiger expects the bill to be on President-elect Barack Obama’s desk by mid-February.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., the District’s nonvoting delegate to the House, reintroduced her once-controversial D.C. House Voting Rights Act earlier this month. Due largely to Norton’s influence, the bill passed the House in 2007 before dying in the Senate. But Norton is confident that this time she will be more successful.
“We know from national polls that our bill has broad, bipartisan support from the American people and we have every reason to believe that we will have the support this year of both houses of Congress and the new president,” Norton said in a news release on Jan. 6, the day she introduced the bill.
Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., introduced the bill in the Senate.
But backers of the legislation may not need the “broad, bipartisan support” they are said to have. Counting the Senate Democrats, Lieberman, Hatch and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. – who caucuses with the Democrats – the bill’s sponsors are very close to having the votes they need to push it past where it stalled last time. If even one of the Republicans who supported the 2007 bill votes for it again, Senate Democrats will have the 60 votes they need to block a filibuster.
Some have speculated, however, that bill will be stalled not by opposition but by a preoccupation with what many think to be larger issues – like the country’s current economic crisis.
But Kiger does not believe these concerns will stop the bill.
“This is an easy win, we know we have the votes,” he said, adding that “D.C. residents deserve to have their voices heard in these very important issues that are facing the country.”
Kiger and other voting rights activists hope the bill will go beyond earning D.C. the vote and toward securing D.C. full statehood in the future. Signs have begun to appear around the District, proclaiming, “Yes We Can! – D.C. Statehood Now.”
Kiger has several of the signs planted outside his office, but said he does not believe the statehood push is likely to happen in the near future.
“It’s a campaign that’s certainly raising awareness about D.C.’s denial of democracy,” he said.