More Than Words
The Democratic leadership needs to act on D.C. voting rights

Published February 7th 2007 in The Washington Post
NATIONAL Democratic party leaders are on record with their unequivocal endorsement of the District's bid for full voting rights in the House of Representatives. Support is always welcome, but what's needed is action. It's time for the Democrats who control Congress to act on legislation to end the disenfranchisement of citizens living in the nation's capital.

The Democratic National Committee voted last weekend to support the measure, promising a grass-roots lobbying campaign. It's a welcome boost for a bill that has languished too long. Sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and the District's nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the measure would add two seats to the House -- one for the heavily Democratic District and the other for largely Republican Utah. The bill enjoyed widespread bipartisan support in the past Congress but was never scheduled for a floor vote, to what should be the everlasting embarrassment of the Republican leadership.

Democrats are in a position to push the bill for approval, but internal party squabbling has slowed its movement. Some Democrats balked at doing anything for Utah until they were convinced that the District seat wouldn't have a chance unless balanced against Utah, which probably would get an extra seat anyway after the next census reapportionment. In recent days, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has raised the concern that the bill would give Utah an extra electoral college vote in the 2008 presidential election and could hurt Democrats in a close race. The question is whether Democrats will allow that highly remote and partisan concern to stand in the way of their claimed support for fair representation for District residents.

Party insiders are confident that the disagreements will be ironed out, and they stress that, unlike the Republican leadership, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) are genuinely committed to voting rights for the District. We have no reason to doubt that. But the strength of the bill crafted by Mr. Davis and Ms. Norton is that it takes into account the self-interest of both parties while weighing the needs of the people of the District and Utah. Tinkering with that formula could doom the bill, and no matter how good the intentions of lawmakers, the District deserves results.