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"We'll Take It"

by Editorial // Published February 18, 2009 in The New York Times

The New York Times Editorial Board endorses the DC Voting Rights Act of 2009.

This nation’s founders rebelled against taxation without representation, but residents of Washington are still without a meaningful voice in Congress. A bill to give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives has taken an important step forward, and it could become law this year. The bill is not ideal, but it would redress a longstanding injustice. Congress should pass it.

A Senate committee voted for a bill last week that would give the district a voting House member and add another House seat for Utah. Utah is the state next in line by population according to the 2000 census to get another seat.

Washington’s lack of representation is profoundly undemocratic. Its residents are American citizens who pay taxes, vote for the president and serve and die in the military. Although the city is relatively small, it is more populous than Wyoming and nearly equal to those of Vermont and Alaska.

The drive to secure a voting House member for heavily Democratic Washington has traditionally faced stiff opposition from Republicans. But in the Senate committee, two Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio — voted in favor. The bill’s supporters may now have the votes to pass it and to overcome a Senate filibuster.

The special consideration given to Utah, a heavily Republican state, has helped win the support of Republicans. They know, however, that after the 2010 census, the new House seat could end up going to another state.

Of course, in a perfect world, fixing the disenfranchisement of residents of the nation’s capital would not be conditioned on giving another House member to a state that has not been wrongly deprived of one. But the compromise is still worth making.

Some critics insist that the bill is unconstitutional because the Constitution speaks of House members representing “the several states.” The better argument, as respected constitutional scholars argue, is that Article I’s “District Clause” gives Congress sweeping authority over the District of Columbia. That authority includes the right to award it Congressional representation.

With Barack Obama, who co-sponsored a 2007 version of the bill, now in the White House and the Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, this could be the moment Washington finally gets its representation.

“It’s 200 years too late,” says Eleanor Holmes Norton, who now serves as the city’s nonvoting member of the House. “But we’ll take it.”