Mint Expected to Balk at Voting Rights Message

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Forget the fragile cherry blossoms and cuddly panda bears. The District has decided to seek a tougher message on its new commemorative quarter: a protest of its lack of full voting rights.

The only question is whether the U.S. Mint will go along.

Yesterday, the District submitted three ideas for its quarter, part of a popular program that has produced coins representing each of the 50 states. One would feature the three stars and two bars of the D.C. flag; another would portray Benjamin Banneker, the 18th-century abolitionist who helped survey the city; and another would depict jazz great Duke Ellington, a D.C. native.

Each design would include the inscription "Taxation Without Representation" or "No Taxation Without Representation."

Those slogans were broadly popular as the D.C. government sought suggestions from residents in recent weeks on what to put on the coin. About one-third of the 350 people who sent in ideas requested the inscriptions, city officials said.

But the Mint does not allow "controversial subjects" on the coins, according to its guidelines. Even before the District submitted its ideas, the Mint had expressed its lack of enthusiasm for the voting rights theme, said Stephanie D. Scott, secretary of the District.

"They do not expect they will approve it," she said of federal officials.

Hoping to change minds, Scott sent a memo explaining why the city viewed the phrases as reflecting D.C. reality, not a political rant.

"Our citizens see this as an opportunity -- similar to our license plates -- to educate the general public" about the voting rights issue, said her memo to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.

About 30 billion coins have been issued through the U.S. quarters program, which was established in 1998. The law that set up the program left out the District, a sore point for a city smarting over its limited autonomy and lack of voting representation in Congress. After years of complaints, the city was added to the program in December, along with five U.S. territories.

The District coin is expected to be minted in 2009.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) called on city residents in recent weeks to pitch their ideas for the quarter, and they were not shy in responding.

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