By State Representative Brad Witt of Clatskanie, Oregon.
As an Oregon State Representative, serving the people of House District 31, I do not take the ability to vote for granted. My vote both at the state and federal level is my critical voice in education, the environment, labor and the economy. Unfortunately, more than half a million Americans living in our nation’s capital are left out of our democracy and are being denied a voice and a vote in our United States Congress.
We in Oregon, as voting American citizens, have the power to raise our voices and change this injustice.
In late March, I met with staff from DC Vote, a nonprofit organization committed to securing congressional voting rights for the 580,000 residents living in Washington, DC. DC Vote is visiting states where Senate members are filibustering the DC Voting Rights Act (S. 1257) - a bill that would give District residents their first-ever voting member in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill has already passed the House and has the support of 57 Senators. But a minority of Senate members is blocking the bill from even being debated.
Opponents of the bill claim that it is unconstitutional – that, because Article 1, Section 2 says that the House of Representatives shall be composed by the “People of the several States,” DC residents have no constitutional right to representation.
I had the opportunity to talk to DC Vote staffers to get the background on this issue. What I learned was that history and precedent shows that Congress has the authority to grant DC voting representation through simple legislation. Through Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution – the District Clause – Congress treats DC as a state for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, full faith and credit, and the commerce clause.
Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, Congress treats the District as if it were one of “the several States” for purposes of the 16th Amendment – collecting billions of dollars in federal income taxes per year from DC residents. To me, that raises a huge red flag. Why aren’t the filibustering Senators crying “unconstitutional” when it comes to taxing the residents of DC? It’s a convenient screen that Congress hides behind to justify denying voting representation to a “majority minority” community of more than half a million, mostly African-American, residents of DC.
Our fellow Americans living in Washington, DC, need our help. A vote in Congress is a fundamental right which should not be denied to any tax-paying American. As an Oregonian with a vote and a voice, I call upon Oregon’s members of the U.S. Senate to support the DC Voting Rights Act and vote on the right side of history.
As citizens of the states, we have our seat at the table of democracy through our vote in Congress; let’s help the rest of America get theirs. Visit DC Vote’s Web site to find out what Oregon residents can do to help: www.dcvote.org.