Why the DC Voting Rights bill may turn out to be HUGE for Oregon

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Today, the U.S. Senate voted 61-37 to pass a bill that will expand the size of the House of Representatives from 435 members to 437 members. The House will take up the bill next week, but it's expected to easily pass there (as it has in previous years.)

Why two new seats?

Well, one of the seats, #437, will be guaranteed to the District of Columbia, providing some measure of congressional representation to its residents. (They still won't have any seats in the U.S. Senate.)

Seat #436 will be allocated through the usual reapportionment process. For now, that means Utah will get an additional seat. (A seat that will, almost surely, be a Republican seat - to balance DC's almost-certainly Democratic seat.)

But after the 2010 Census, that 436th seat will be apportioned in the usual way. Why does this matter so much to Oregon?

As I wrote in December, Oregon is right on the bubble for a sixth congressional seat. If reapportionment was based on the 2008 Census estimate, Oregon-6 would be ranked #437. If the national population shifts in 2009 and 2010 like the last eight years, Oregon-6 would be ranked #435.

Obviously, all these estimates are just estimates - and very rough estimates at that. (They're actually projections based on estimated annual population numbers. Call 'em guesstimates, if you like.)

But one thing is for sure: Oregon is right on the bubble. And just one more additional seat in Congress may be just what we need to make a sixth congressional seat actually happen.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    I am so excited to see this finally pass the U.S. Senate. It is an issue I'd written Gordon Smith about in previous years. It's also the only topic I ever got a response to out of all the things I contacted his office about - and the response was crap.

    I just couldn't understand how - in a country founded on the fight against taxation without representation - we could do that to the citizens living in our capitol.

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    Well, it's not statehood, which would be the right thing to do - but it's something. I'd like to see statehood accomplished, by reducing the statutory boundaries of the constitutionally required District to the true "seat of government".

    Basically, that would be the rectangular area bounded by Constitution Avenue on the north, Independence Avenue on the south, 2nd NE on the east, and the Potomac to the West - plus the rectangular area between 15th & 17th NW up to Pennsylvania Avenue. In other words, the US Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, and the entire national mall (including the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian.) Here's a map.

    The rest could just be the State of Columbia - or some other name entirely.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    The people in Medford, Grants Pass, K Falls and the rest of the "State of Jefferson" will be happy about this. I have always felt that that area was a little under-represented in Washington. One mopre seat would do well.

    But its only speculation.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    And one more item...Why Utah?

  • Jim H (unverified)
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    I have to say, I really don't like this solution. For one thing (not that I'm a constitutional scholar) it has always seemed legally questionable, but like Kari says full statehood is what they need so they can have Senators as well.

    I don't know about being their own state (it is just one city). I think the land not in the seat of power as Kari described should go back to the state in which the land was originally appropriated from (VA/MD). Then they are counted as part of the VA and MD population, they get Senators and population-based congressional representation.

  • Jim H (unverified)
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    And one more item...Why Utah?
    1. To be non-partisan. Adding a sure-Democratic seat along with a sure-Republican seat.

    2. Utah has long whined about their census count being under-counted because of the number of Mormans out of the state on their missions during the count.

  • (Show?)

    Why Utah? Two answers: Mathematically, they're #436 on the list based on the 2000 census. Politically, this got momentum because Utah felt they were robbed - because the census didn't count all their overseas missionaries. That argument was dismissed by the Sumpreme Court ( you'd have to count all expats) but it set up a happy pairing for the folks in DC.

  • DSS (unverified)
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    "I'd like to see statehood accomplished, by reducing the statutory boundaries of the constitutionally required District to the true 'seat of government'."

    A reasonable solution that takes the founders' philosphy into account... that no one state should have undue influence over an assembled Congress.

    However, I will note that although this plan would prevent a state from wielding authority over the actual institutions of federal government, it still leaves open the opportunity for the "State of Columbia" (or what have you) to assume authority over where Congressmen are likely to reside, eat, purchase services, etc.

    Certainly, there's no reason why the far-off sections of DC need to be federally-controlled... but any plan that necessarily puts Congressmen and Senators under the jurisdiction of an individual state -- even during non-working hours -- I think skirts the principle behind a federal district.

  • jaznpdx (unverified)
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    after the 2010 census, the number of congressmen returns to 435, right?

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    Not likely, jaznpdx - not unless you really want to tick off the people of Utah any further...

    Kari, what is the formula again for the seating arrangement? I thought it was 1/n(n-1)...

  • Jim H (unverified)
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    after the 2010 census, the number of congressmen returns to 435, right?

    No, the legislation permanently changes the number to 437: 1 dedicated to D.C., the other goes into the pool apportioned by the census. Which is what Kari was getting at with this post. With an extra seat in the mix, Oregon is a little more likely to pick up #6.

  • (Show?)

    I don't think the location where members of Congress eat, live, etc. makes as big of a deal. Some live in Virginia and Maryland now because it's cheaper.

    The intent was always to keep the seat of out government out of any state's jurisdiction. The problem is that we've allowed people to live on the land that was set aside for the capitol.

  • (Show?)

    Jim H is correct. This bill permanently expands the number to 437 seats, with one guaranteed to DC (as it is with each state.)

    Eric - you can read about the reapportionment math here. Basically, every state gets one seat (and now DC does too.) Then, you figure out which state has the most people per seat, and then add one seat to that state. Repeat over and over. (That's an oversimplification, but basically explains it.) That's why I'm able to describe the seats in a rank order - we can identify which states barely made it in, and which barely fell out.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    Works best with an excel sheet. Thanks!

  • JL (unverified)
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    As a native of the Washington, DC Metro area, this is an issue that is of such importance to me -- but is also one that is fundamentally misunderstood by those outside of the region.

    Many of those looking at this issue present solutions that would cede much of Washington, DC back to Maryland and Virginia. This is a plan that is not only difficult to implement, as an ineffective state government in Maryland has been so far unable to deal with its other major urban areas. For much of the 1990s, Washington DC and Baltimore were the two most violent cities in the country. While D.C. has undergone a remarkable transformation that has left it a safe, economically viable city, Baltimore remains a tattered mess -- plagued by drugs, corruption and a lack of creative political ideas. Is this the government we want running the Mid-Atlantic's greatest success story?

    As for the side closest to Virginia -- most of that land has already been re appropriated from D.C. This section, formerly located in the city's now-tiny Southwest quadrant, is home almost exclusively to Arlington National Cemetery. As for the rest of the "Virginia"-side territory, it is inconsequential and thus, unlikely to go "back" to Virginia.

    I want to be brief (ha), but another important caveat is that, while Washington, D.C. is only 10 square miles large, it is a culturally district region of the mid-atlantic. With such a small geographical presence, this is difficult to understand, especially in a state as spread-out as Oregon. However, Washingtonians (native or otherwise) are quick to recognize the fact that they are not Marylanders, nor do they aspire to be. While the District's unique status is antiquated and must be revisited, it has afforded D.C. the opportunity to experiment with such otherwise novel concepts as gun control, charter schools, free museums, and the like. These go beyond policies, as the sheer density and proximity to the nation's capitol (which comprises of an extremely small part of the city - another widely misunderstood concept) have created a unique culture with its own music, food, fashion, sensibilities and understanding of the world. As someone who grew up in suburban Maryland, be assured, Washington D.C. is a very, very different place.

    DC voting rights is about fixing a centuries-old and minor flaw in our constitution that has been manipulated and morphed into one of the ugliest political issues of our time. Over 400,000 full-time residents (not politicians, part-time resident lobbyists, IRS officials living in Virginia, Pentagon workers in Virginia, Maryland lawyers that commute, etc), born and raised close to power but certainly having never been in it, are forced to pay federal taxes, oftentimes serve in our military and generally give the exact same amount back to their country as anyone other American do not have representation in the very Congress they host. It is irrelevant and an aberration of our democracy for us to care what their political persuasion is.

    Let's be honest: the framer's never intended Washington, D.C. to house more than the federal government and an extremely limited number of federal employees. Now bring us to today and we find ourselves in a situation where the Capitol of the Free World houses not only what many believe to be the greatest democratic body and symbol of freedom in the world, but also the most disenfranchised, unrepresented group of Americans in the country.

    In the grand scheme of things, 1 seat in the house of representatives will never upset the balance of power. But granting that same seat will be a triumph of civil rights, voters rights and the effort to remain true to the original intent of our democracy -- instead of having us fall victim to a historically-unfortunate lack of foresight.

    As this issue progresses through the House, is signed by President Obama and then inevitably ends up in the Supreme Court, let's do the least we can and at least show our solidarity and support for those who in the center of Western democracy, have been robbed of a vote for far too long.

  • (Show?)

    Two things:

    First, I'm all for giving DC representation. It is long overdue. However, I'm not terribly crazy about giving Mormonland and extra representative. Personally I think it sets up an ugly precedent for the future in terms of states wiggling out extra representatives between censuses.

    Second, someone mentioned about expats getting counted. I'm wondering since I am one (I've been in South Korea for 5 years now) do they actually count expats and how can I make sure my head gets counted during the Oregon Census (one more toward that 6th district right).

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Well, one of the seats, #437, will be guaranteed to the District of Columbia, providing some measure of congressional representation to its residents. (They still won't have any seats in the U.S. Senate.)

    Now that's a Congress in the back pocket. This one was the only thing that even LBJ couldn't get done. It's about time the ball is finally rolling.

    How about adjusting reapportionment math. to take account of the average person's "greenprint", rather than simply rewarding increased population with political influence. Exempt "flow" seats, like when 3 go from Michigan to Texas, but Utah should get none. People that believe in a literal mirror universe and are having kids in this world to affect the other are, in my opinion, child abusers, and, at the very least, don't need more political clout for the fact of it. They use their capital hypocritically. If they are so concerned about the threat to marriage posed by GLBT relationships, and would alter the Constitution for it, they would shut down their maverick polygamists yesterday, instead of having whole counties where the law looks the other way.

    And go back to appointing Senators. It's the counterweight that makes Federalism work and progressive Libertarianism practical. The current structure panders to demagoguery.

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