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Voting Rights Task Force Questions Davis Proposal

Echoing earlier analysis critiquing a proposal being developed by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to create a full-fledged House Member for the District of Columbia, a task force commissioned by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has recommended that Congress treat the District as a state solely for voting rights.

“We are encouraging Representative Davis to continue to work on his proposal because we are very encouraged by his work and he in turn has assured us that he is open to our suggestions and to a range of options that have been presented to him by others,” Norton said.

Although Davis has said he plans to introduce legislation in the fall, he has not publically committed to a specific proposal.

In its study, the Task Force on Voting Rights looked at a proposal to create two new House seats, one for the District and one in Utah.

Under the proposal, Washingtonians would be treated as Maryland residents for voting purposes, and the new district, Maryland’s 9th, would include D.C. and Free State residents.

The task force’s findings, released Thursday, are presented as listed questions divided into nine areas, including the effects of a voting-rights proposal on home rule, Senate representation, the policy and geographic cohesiveness of the District of Columbia, and redistricting.

A statement accompanying the document calls the issues “serious and numerous,” and suggests an alternative should be considered.

“The possible answers to a number of the questions could prove disqualifying constitutionally, legally or politically, or might be so unacceptable to Maryland or the District as to foreclose acceptance or passage of a bill,” the statement continues.

Some of those concerns, Norton said, focus on whether D.C. could be divided into multiple Congressional districts in reapportionment following the 2010 Census and whether the proposal would violate constitutional requirements that House Members must be elected from the state they represent.

A modified proposal could ask Congress to treat D.C. as a state for House representation, and create a Congressional district comprised of only the city itself. “The Constitution and the Congress already treat the District as a state for almost every purpose,” Norton said.

The recommendation is similar to an analysis submitted in July by the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

Norton’s task force includes Walter Smith, who serves as the Appleseed Center’s executive director, along with Jon Bouker, Norton’s former chief counsel, and Jamie Raskin, an American University law professor.

A Davis spokesman said the Congressman welcomes the task force’s input. “When you’re dealing with an issue as complex as possible, the more information the better, the more ideas the better, the more analysis the better,” said David Marin.

However, he also said, “The task force’s analysis is a bit premature in that no proposal currently exists.”

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