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D.C. Vote Still Faces Hurdles

Congress Not Likely to Act Soon on Rights

While a survey released Tuesday by a local advocacy group shows an overwhelming number of Americans favor equal voting rights for D.C., Members of Congress say much more needs to happen before it becomes a reality.

At a summit meeting Tuesday held by DC Vote, two Members that support voting rights for the District met with local philanthropic groups to discuss how best to use the new survey and further voting rights resolutions now in Congress.

Currently, the more than half-million residents living in the District have no representation in the Senate and a single nonvoting Delegate in the House. But DC Vote’s national survey found that 78 percent of Americans believe D.C. residents already have equal voting rights in Congress. When respondents were informed that D.C. residents pay taxes and serve in the military but have no voting representation in Congress, 82 percent said D.C. citizens should have equal voting rights in both the House and Senate.

“That is a staggering number of misinformed people,” said DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka. He said a targeted national educational campaign is necessary to take advantage of the large base of support for District voting rights across the country. That campaign would in turn put pressure on the voting Members of Congress, he said.

“The fact is you already have the American people with you,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) told audience members. “You’ve heard of money left on the table, we’ve left votes on the table, and we need to take them up.”

While voting rights for the District has traditionally been an issue that has split along party lines in Congress, the survey — which was conducted Jan. 14-16 by the nonpartisan KRC Research and has a 3 point margin of error — showed that 87 percent of registered Democrats and 77 percent of registered Republicans support full representation in Congress.

Still, some leadership officials are less than optimistic that a bipartisan push on behalf of the District — where Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) earned 90 percent of the vote in November’s election — will happen any time soon.

“The Democrats’ position is clear — [D.C.] should have a vote and that vote should count,” said Jennifer Crider, press secretary for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). The poll is “additional fuel to add to the fire of support for pushing Republicans on this, but ultimately they control the floor and the issue of bringing it up.”

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed.

“The Senator has been a longtime champion of voting rights in D.C. … [but] it’s going to require the Democrats taking back control of the House and Senate before it can happen. The Republicans are strongly opposed to it.”

Representatives for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

But one Republican who has long been a champion of the D.C. voting rights movement, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), appeared at Tuesday’s summit. Davis, whom Norton called one of her closest allies, called the lack of voting rights in D.C. “a huge image problem for all Americans.”

Davis spoke about the resolution he submitted last summer which would establish the District of Columbia as a Congressional district for the purposes of representation in the House. Calling for a need for “incrementalism” he said his resolution would be more feasible because it could be passed as a statute rather than amending the Constitution. It would also give D.C. a vote at the same time that reapportionment would give the overwhelmingly Republican state of Utah an additional vote in Congress.

“The partisanship of today will be irrelevant a generation from now,” Davis said, explaining the precedents of bringing new states into the union. “We’re working on my side of the aisle to get other Republicans in favor of this … there’s no political downside to Republicans supporting this.”

Davis said that it may take a year or more before the votes are lined up for his proposal to be brought to the floor, but he promised that he would “keep moving the ball down the field.”

“We’re on the right side of this issue historically, we’re on the right side of this issue in the world and we’re on the right side of this issue legally. … We’re not wedded to one approach or another, we’re wedded to the idea.”

Norton, whose own resolution for full voting representation in Congress was submitted in March 2003, agreed.

“When there is an opening for the District of Columbia I’m going to squeeze through that opening, I don’t care whose bill it is,” she said.