D.C. Voting Rights Should Happen in 2009

It's basic fairness.


By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Today's Washington Post reports that the push to get the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives will get a quick start this year. And by my count, it should actually happen this time. 

At the moment, D.C. has a nonvoting representative in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton (perhaps best known to a national audience for her excellent jousts with Stephen Colbert). In a 2007 compromise, D.C. would have gotten a representative as would the very Republican state of Utah (conveniently the state that would have, according to census data, been next in line for another seat). That compromise passed but got filibustered in the Senate—57 senators voted to end the filibuster, 42 voted against ending it and one abstained. In order to break the filibuster, 60 votes were required. And even if the Senate had passed the legislation, George W. Bush would have vetoed it.

This tends to be a partisan issue, with Republicans opposing (on the ostensible grounds that the Constitution does not allow for a voting representative from the District) and Democrats favoring.

To me, it's an issue of basic principles. This country was born in part on the idea that citizens should not be taxed without representation. As a fundamental matter, we shouldn't have U.S. citizens living in the United States and its territories who don't have congressional representation. (Puerto Rico is pretty high on this list, too, by the way.) If the GOP is correct about the constitutionality here, then the Constitution is wrong and should be amended. But because the Republicans have shown no interest in amending the Constitution, the add-a-House-seat-for-D.C.-and-one-for-Utah plan is the next best thing.

So, assuming the plan passes the House again (Norton is hoping for a vote somewhere around February 12, but it may be later in the spring), the critical battle will take place in the Senate. By my count (and by Norton's), seven "no" Republican senators have been replaced by Democrats (one "yes" GOP senator—Norm Coleman of Minnesota—appears unlikely to return, either).

Three Democratic "yes" votes—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Ken Salazar—will (presumably) be replaced by Democrats.

Two of the new Democratic senators—Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico—voted in favor of the D.C. voting compromise in the House. That gets Democrats to 56 Senate votes; assuming four of the other eight new Democratic senators vote like, well, Democrats, D.C. should get its vote this year. Finally.

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