The District Deserves A Vote

By Adrian Fenty
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Last Tuesday Americans across the country flooded their polling places and voted for far-reaching change in our national legislature. Whether it was the war in Iraq or such issues as national security, education, health care and the environment, Americans sent a clear message with their votes that it's time for change.

But the nearly 600,000 Americans living in the District of Columbia were forced to sit on the sidelines and watch as the rest of the nation elected our new Congress. With no voting member of Congress to elect, Washingtonians were again denied participation in American democracy.

As the newly elected mayor of Washington, D.C., I'm concerned about the important issues facing the people of the District. I'm concerned about the families unable to afford health care or housing. I'm concerned about the parents grieving over the loss of daughters and sons in Afghanistan and Iraq. I'm concerned about the children who are being left behind in schools. And I'm outraged that D.C. residents have no vote in the Congress that will decide how to handle these challenges.

At the top of Congress's agenda right now should be this important part of its unfinished business: enactment of H.R. 5388, the D.C. Voting Rights Act. This legislation would give voting representation in the House of Representatives to D.C. residents for the first time ever. Passage of the bill is a key component of our plan to turn the District into a world-class capital.

The legislation provides D.C. residents with a vote in the House of Representatives while providing Utah with an additional congressional seat. Utah was the next state in line to receive an additional representative after the last census. H.R. 5388 has bipartisan support and is vote-neutral. We are working closely with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to negotiate a fair compromise that benefits the people of Utah and the District of Columbia.

In September I sat alongside Mayor Anthony Williams and members of the D.C. Council at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the D.C. Voting Rights Act. I listened as every witness and lawmaker present agreed that denying a vote in Congress to citizens living in Washington is a problem that must be fixed. We have made considerable progress in advancing this bill, and we are presented with a window of opportunity to correct the injustice by the end of this year.

The D.C. Voting Rights Act is backed by constitutional experts such as Kenneth Starr and Patricia Wald, who, as legal scholars, understand that the District clause of the Constitution gives Congress the power to provide representation for Washingtonians.

I look forward to working with Congress on a number of additional reform issues, including budget and legislative autonomy and a transformation of the public school system. Let us begin that partnership by taking a step toward strengthening our nation's capital.

I urge Congress to pass this bill swiftly so that President Bush can sign it into law this year. America is the only democracy in the world that denies voting representation to the people of its capital. That needs to end right now.

I am humbled by the strong support of D.C. residents who share my vision of a world-class capital. We are not alone. I have traveled across the country meeting with mayors in America's greatest cities who share our frustration and our hope for bringing representation to our nation's capital. Achieving full and equal participation in our democracy is essential to working toward that vision. We need voting representation in Congress and control of our own affairs to help move our city forward.

As American citizens, we deserve full and equal representation in both the House and Senate. The D.C. Voting Rights Act moves us toward equality. Give Washingtonians a vote in the House. We deserve more -- but certainly no less.

The writer is mayor-elect of the District of Columbia.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company