Editorial -- Time for Congress to Move on D.C. Voting Rights

Saturday, December 27, 2008

IN PUSHING congressional leaders for early action on voting rights for the District, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) says she's mindful of the "unprecedented issues" facing the new Congress. Nonetheless, she wonders: Wouldn't it be appropriate to enact the measure close to the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth on Feb. 12? Ms. Norton is right about the symbolism. But an even better argument is that D.C. residents -- shut out of their government for 200 years -- should have a voice in deciding these important issues.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate support D.C. voting rights but have not committed to scheduling a date for a vote that would give the District a true representative in the House. To be sure, there will be a crush of business -- with economic stimulus topping the list -- facing the new Congress and administration. But the voting rights bill, which would also give an extra House seat to predominantly Republican Utah to maintain the existing political balance, is teed up for approval. It enjoys broad bipartisan support, having easily passed the House last session but falling three votes short of the 60-vote hurdle for Senate passage. The bigger Democratic majorities in both houses of the incoming Congress dramatically improve the bill's prospects -- and the incoming Democratic president has said he would sign it.

The measure probably will be subject to a court challenge by those who dispute its constitutionality. Yet every day the bill is delayed is another day of injustice for disenfranchised District residents who continue to pay their taxes and march off to war. President-elect Barack Obama could send a powerful message by heeding the D.C. Council's suggestion that he use "Taxation Without Representation" license plates on the presidential limousine. President Bill Clinton did so before leaving office; President Bush reversed the practice. Even more important, however, Mr. Obama should urge the Democratic congressional leadership to give the residents of his new city the vote that they have too long been denied.

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