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February 4th, 2009

Now is the time for DC voting rights

Marc Morial

Never before has the power of the ballot been more evident than in this past presidential election. A record number of Americans went to the polls to cast their votes for change in America and new leadership in Washington. But, even as President Obama took the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol in the District of Columbia, its 592,000 residents were still being denied full voting rights. The tide may finally be turning. With a sympathetic President in the White House and increased support in Congress, the people of Washington, D.C. now have the best chance in decades to gain a voting voice in Congress and put an end to "Taxation Without Representation."

As she has done for many years, DC’s non-voting Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is leading this fight. On January 6th she introduced H.R. 157, which calls for an increase in the permanent House membership from 435 to 437 by giving one seat to the District of Columbia and adding a fourth seat for Utah. On the same day, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a similar bill in the Senate. The legislation also has the support of dozens of national and local organizations, including, DC Vote, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the National Urban League.

A hearing on the House bill is scheduled for this week. Unlike the previous administration, President Obama supports the DC Voting Rights Bill and has promised to sign it as soon as it reaches his desk. He was a prime sponsor of a bill that was narrowly defeated in the Senate last year. As I and the other supporters have said before, it is well overdue to afford the same representational rights enjoyed by every other tax-paying American citizen to the residents of the District of Columbia. It is time to pass a strong bipartisan bill that will provide Washingtonians with a voting member of the House of Representatives for the very first time.

This is not a fight about partisanship or race; it is a fight about democracy. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, serve on juries and fight and die in our wars – but they do not have a voting representative in either the U.S. House or Senate. As a result, those residents are effectively relegated to second-class citizenship. They are unable to bring grievances to influential Federal officials, reap the benefits available to other Congressional constituents, or have a say in the important issues of war and peace that confront this nation. America can no longer tolerate being the only democratic country in the world that denies voting representation to citizens of the nation’s capital.

It is encouraging that one week after the inauguration, Congress is taking action on the DC Voting Rights Act. However, we have come close before only to see the legislation killed by its opponents. The National Urban League joins Delegate Norton and others in calling for quick passage of this Bill. With President Obama’s signature, we will have won an historic victory for fairness and democracy.

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