What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Enfranchising the Disenfranchised/Voting Rights : S 160. (DC voting rights) On passing a bill that would add two seats in the House, one for Washington, DC and one for Utah/On passing the bill (2009 senate Roll Call 73)
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S 160. (DC voting rights) On passing a bill that would add two seats in the House, one for Washington, DC and one for Utah/On passing the bill
senate Roll Call 73     Feb 26, 2009
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This vote was on passing a bill that would give the District of Columbia voting rights in the House, and Utah an extra seat in the House. 

Washington, D.C. currently has a “delegate” in the House, but she does not have full voting privileges – for instance, she can vote in committees, but not on the House floor. There is no D.C. senator.  This is because D.C. is a district, not a state, and the Constitution only grants full representation in the U.S. Congress to states. The District of Columbia and other U.S. territories such as Guam, Samoa and Puerto Rico have delegates to the House who do not have full voting privileges.

The city of Washington, D.C. – whose license plates read “no taxation without representation” – has long sought full voting rights in Congress.  But this has been a contentious and partisan topic, because giving voting rights to D.C. would, in essence, be giving Democrats an extra seat in the House. This is because the District’s majority black population votes overwhelmingly Democratic, effectively giving the Democrats a safe seat. As an olive branch to the GOP, the bill would also expand Utah’s number of members in the House with a safe Republican seat.  Republicans have also argued that allowing Washington, D.C. full voting representation would violate the Constitution, which states that full voting rights are only for states.  Technically Washington, D.C. is a federal district and is treated in much the same manner as U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam, which also have non-voting delegates to the House.

“The Senate today is moving to right a century’s-old wrong. It is inexcusable and indefensible that nearly 600,000 people who live in the District of Columbia don’t enjoy a voice in Congress as do other American citizens. We are the only democracy in the world that denies citizens of its capital—our capital, Washington, DC—the right to vote in a national legislature in any way. Residents of Washington, DC pay taxes. They sit on juries. They serve bravely in the armed services. Yet they are provided only a delegate in Congress who is not permitted to vote. This injustice has stood for far too long. Shadow representation is shadow citizenship and is offensive to our democracy,” said Harry Reid, D-Nev.

In addition to granting DC a vote in the House, the bill also would repeal Washington, DC’s ban on certain semiautomatic weapons, remove most of the city’s registration requirements for gun ownership and generally make it far easier for DC citizens to own a gun.  Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that DC’s gun laws – which made it all but impossible for a citizen to own a gun -- were unconstitutional, and ordered the government to redraft the laws.  Since then, the DC City Council has redrafted the laws, but they are still very restrictive and are meant to actively discourage gun ownership.  The language in this bill would essentially repeal most of the redrafted laws.

By a vote of 61-37, the Senate passed the bill.  All but two Democrats present voted for the bill.  All but six Republicans present voted against the bill.  The end result is that the Senate passed a bill that would give Washington, D.C. full voting representation in the House (as well as an extra seat for Utah) and repeal most of DC’s restrictive gun ownership laws.

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