Support DC Voting Rights

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.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    No taxation without representation!

  • (Show?)

    Thank you Rep Witt, for reminding us about this disparity in representation to our fellow Americans in our nation's capitol. I wonder where Sen Wyden, future-former Sen Smith, and the Oregon candidates for US Senate stand on this issue? What about Sens Clinton and Obama, where do they stand on representation for the good citizens and taxpayers of DC? And last of all, is there a list of the Senators who are filibustering this bill? I for one would call them and ask why they are doing this.

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    The answer to full citizenship for DC residents is to have the District annexed into the state of Maryland. Giving them a representative in the House won't begin to remedy the abuses and bullying their elected local government takes at the hands of Congress... particularly but not exclusively during Republican administrations.

    The State of Maryland would require, understandably, a financial agreement with the Federal government to offset the costs of accepting so much tax-protected landscape but that could be fairly arranged.

    There is also precedent. A large chunk of what was originally part of the district on the south bank of the Potomac is now in the State of Virginia. The transfer could be used as a template for the Maryland annexation- which would give DC residents real self-government instead of a token representative who wouldn't enjoy much more power than their non-voting member now has.

  • Rulial (unverified)
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    Glen,

    According to the website at the bottom of the post, Sen. Smith is one of the people filibustering.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks Rep Witt! I'm going to have something highlighting the opinions of our federal delegation and Senate candidates--pointing out pretty easily that Gordo's the one out of step--early next week. I'm totally with you...

  • (Show?)

    I actually wrote Smith about this back when the issue had come up in the U.S. Senate again. And it's the only time I've ever gotten a response back from his office on any of the issues I've ever written him about.

    You can read the content of the letter here from back when this was a topic on Blue Oregon previously.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Larry McD:

    The answer to full citizenship for DC residents is to have the District annexed into the state of Maryland.

    Bob T:

    Exactly! Annexation may not be entirely necessary, as DC citizens should simply be allowed to cast votes in Maryland's state-wide election (for two US Senators), and to have their own US Rep (or two, depending on the population count--part of the district's voting bloc may need to be attached to an existing US House District in Maryland).

    Larry McD:

    Giving them a representative in the House won't begin to > remedy the abuses and bullying their elected local > government takes at the hands of Congress... particularly > but not exclusively during Republican administrations

    Bob T:

    Well, I don't know what all of that means, but DCians ought to have shown all these years that they can choose better people than that crack-smoking mayor they elected and re-elected some years back. But anyway, this whole DC Statehood issue has been nothing but a ploy to get two Democratic Party Senators in the US Senate, which is a joke considering that this is just a city and hardly a New York or Chicago etc. The same sentiment would be wrong if people in a heavily Republican city were trying to break away to be their own state.

    I have a blurb from a few years back that stated all of this for what it is. I'll have to dig it up, but it was written by a prominent liberal Democrat and what he said was that the idea of Democrats trying to argue that DC should be a state is like a fly landing on an elephant's ass and contemplating rape.

    Bob Tiernan

  • (Show?)

    Well, DC has more people in it than Wyoming, so I say annex Wyoming to Montana, or the other way around ... more people than a lot of states actually, which get their two senators and two electoral votes. In recent decades I think more of those small pop. states have tended to lean R, though not all (e.g. VT & RI) but that has changed before & could change again.

    Why Maryland and not Virginia?

    If we're going to disfranchise DCers for the quality of their elected officials, Texas has to lose voting rights too. And ban all marionberry products from the Made in Oregon store. And Alaska should lose at least one senator for the bridge to nowhere. And, and, and ...

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Chris Lowe:

    Well, DC has more people in it than Wyoming, so I say annex Wyoming to Montana, or the other way around ... more people than a lot of states actually, which get their two senators and two electoral votes.

    Bob T:

    So what. It's still a very, very small geographic area too small to be a state.

    Wyoming and other larger areas were brought in as states--can't change that.

    Chris Lowe:

    Why Maryland and not Virginia?

    Bob T:

    Because the original District of Columbia was square-shaped and straddled the Potomac, and the Virginia half has already been given to Virginia. The remaining portion must remain a municipal entity but should be considered part of Maryland for many purposes. The property on which US government buildings and campuses stand might be considered exempt and controlled by the Federal government. DC was never meant to be the highly populated city that it became after the Feds started creating more and more bureaucracies.

    Chris Lowe:

    If we're going to disfranchise DCers for the quality of their elected officials...

    Bob T:

    No one is calling for that. It's just a sign that we shouldn't expect much.

    Bob Tiernan

  • Zach (unverified)
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    I am so happy that we have someone like this on our side. Thank you, Representative Brad Witt.

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