A Vote in the House

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

WHEN THE HOUSE of Representatives votes on federal taxes or decides solemn questions such as when citizens must go off to war, the District's representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has to stand and watch as her Democratic and Republican colleagues decide the fate of her constituents. Despite having served and died in 10 wars and paid billions in federal taxes, D.C. residents are still voteless in Congress. That inexcusable situation exists despite polls showing that the American public favors congressional representation for D.C. residents. Today Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) will launch a second effort to rectify at least half of the problem by sponsoring a bill that gives the District a vote in the House. The measure would still leave the District unrepresented in the Senate. The Davis proposal, however, is a substantial advance in D.C. voting rights and deserves strong bipartisan support in Congress.

Mr. Davis's measure would achieve the goal of giving the District a single vote by increasing the size of the House by two and reapportioning seats. Given the most recent census, the likely result would be an extra seat for Utah along with the District. And given party registration and voting patterns in the two jurisdictions, the Utah seat is likely to be held by a Republican and the District's by a Democrat. The new arrangement would last, under Mr. Davis's proposal, until the regular 2012 reapportionment, at which time the House would revert to 435 members to be divided by population among the District and the states. No matter what happens to the size of Utah's delegation at that point, the District would keep its seat.

This should be a win-win situation. For those hoping to address the controversy over the last census count, when Utah just barely lost out on a fourth seat, Mr. Davis offers a remedy. As far as the District is concerned, the bill will most assuredly give D.C. residents what Mr. Davis has called "the primary tool of democratic participation: representation in the national legislature."

Unfortunately, blind partisanship may trump democracy unless members take a stand against the present injustice. Fear that the Republican-dominated Utah state legislature would redraw lines to doom a Democratic member of the House caused Democrats to balk at the Davis proposal in the last Congress. We have stated on other occasions our own dislike for the way redistricting is being conducted in most states -- amounting to little more than state-sanctioned gerrymandering benefiting incumbents, the majority party or both -- and have offered our own thoughts on a proper alternative. However, depriving more than half a million District residents of a fundamental right enjoyed by all other Americans because of partisan politics is neither a proper nor an acceptable response by the Democratic Party. A D.C. vote in the House is the right thing to do. We remain fully committed to the District having two senators as well as representation in the House. The Davis proposal takes the nation's capital halfway there.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company