It’s time to put that old slogan to rest. “No taxation without representation” served our forefathers well to concisely describe the unequivocal necessity of democracy. The same phrase now sprinkles the streets, license plates, bumper stickers and yard signs of the city our forefathers built, Washington, D.C. — and still describes the same uncompromising need.
We pay taxes, serve on juries and fight in the military. Yet Washingtonians still have no representation in the very Congress that writes our national laws, approves our city budget, reviews our local laws, appoints our judges and sends our neighbors and family members to war. We are American citizens. We deserve a vote in the national legislature. It has been more than 200 years, and the time has come to end taxation without representation once and for all.
The American people support this cause. In a 2005 poll conducted by KRS Research, 82 percent of Americans supported granting full voting representation to D.C. residents.
Until the Senate grants Washington a vote in Congress, this shameful situation continues to damage the United States’ credibility as a champion of democratic principles. Our allies abroad cannot understand how the U.S. can deny voting representation to the citizens of its own capital. Even Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) admits that when pressed by baffled European officials, he could not find a satisfactory answer for the disenfranchisement of the District, saying, “It was very difficult to explain.”
Congress now has the opportunity to grant residents of D.C. a full vote in the House of Representatives. The bipartisan District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act offers an elegant solution by balancing the new vote for the District with an additional seat for Utah, the next state eligible.
In April, the House passed the bill by a vote of 241-177. In June, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed, by a vote of 9-1, a Senate version introduced by Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Bob Bennett (Utah). With these bipartisan votes, we have significant momentum as the bill moves to the Senate floor.
There are disheartening reports, however, that some Senators are considering a filibuster of this bill. We are reminded of the notorious filibusters of voting rights legislation during the days of segregation, when a faction of Senators used procedural tactics to delay popular legislation to expand democracy. No Senator has filibustered a voting rights bill since that time. We should not return to this dark period in our nation’s history.
The D.C. bill presents lawmakers with a unique opportunity to cast a vote on principle alone. This measure is bipartisan and vote-neutral. Many legal scholars, including conservatives Ken Starr and Viet Dinh, as well as the American Bar Association, strongly support the constitutionality of this bill. For those Senators, however, who have a different view, the Homeland Security panel accepted an amendment offered by ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) that ensures expedited judicial review. Let the courts decide whether the law is constitutional. The Senate’s role, I believe, is simple: Pass the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act and give the American citizens living in D.C. the right to vote in Congress for the first time ever.
For the residents of the District, for our international credibility, for justice, and for each and every American’s unequivocal right to participate in our nation’s democracy, it’s time to finish the job our Founding Fathers began. End taxation without representation once and for all and pass the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act.
Kathy Kemper is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Education and a resident of Washington, D.C.