FAIR Treatment for D.C. Voters

By Ilir Zherka
Published January 29th 2006 in Washington Post

For the first time in 33 years, Congress is close to passing legislation that would chip away at the District's status as a jurisdiction that has taxation without representation.

More than three decades ago, District residents got the right to vote for president. Now Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) is advocating passage of the D.C. Fairness in Representation Act, or D.C. FAIR Act.

This act would give Democratic-leaning Washington one voting member in the House while preserving the political balance in Congress by temporarily adding a House seat for historically Republican Utah. Utah narrowly missed getting a fourth House seat after the 2000 Census.

A national poll conducted last year by KRC Research found that 82 percent of Americans believe that the 600,000 residents of the District deserve full and equal voting representation in Congress. Yet politicians on the local and federal level have been slow to get behind the D.C. FAIR Act.

Some have expressed concern that it would change the makeup of political districts in Utah, but the Utah Republican delegation and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) have embraced the proposal if it would make the temporary seat at-large, which would eliminate the need for redistricting.

Unfortunately, although the bill has Republican and Democratic sponsors and the support of the D.C. Council and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, members of Congress will not act unless more people urge them to do so.

DC Vote is joined by prominent national advocacy organizations such as Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and the National Urban League in its mission to bring democracy to District residents. But D.C. residents also need to contact family and friends to get them to voice support for the D.C. FAIR Act. DC Vote also plans to launch a national public-awareness campaign this spring to educate Americans about the lack of voting rights in the nation's capital.

The D.C. Council, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the mayor also could help the cause by vigorously lobbying members of Congress, engaging Washingtonians in the fight for equality and finding national champions to help the District take its message to Congress.

The denial of congressional voting representation to D.C. residents is a national disgrace. Davis put it best when he said that it is hypocritical for the United States to spend billions to bring democracy to Baghdad but not extend voting representation to Washington.

Certainly, a vote in the House alone won't mean equality for D.C. residents. Like Americans elsewhere, the people who live in Washington deserve representation in both the House and the Senate. Passage of the D.C. FAIR Act, however, would provide a crucial first step.

-- Ilir Zherka is executive director of DC Vote, an educational and advocacy organization. [email protected]