- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Supporters of the long effort to secure D.C. voting rights will return with renewed optimism Tuesday to Capitol Hill, where new legislation faces its first vote.

With a Democrat as president and more Democrats in Congress, the legislation should pass the House easily, but it still faces a close vote in the Senate.

The D.C. House Voting Rights Act will be reintroduced by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat and the District’s non-voting House member, and Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

The legislation would give one House vote to the District and a fourth one to Utah, which narrowly missed getting an additional seat after the last U.S. Census. Utah, which traditionally leans to the right politically, now has one Democrat and two Republicans in the House and is the next to receive a new seat based on the last census.

“Men and women of the District have fought bravely in our wars, many giving their lives in defense of our country, yet they have no vote on the serious questions of war and peace,” Mr. Lieberman said.

If the bill makes it through Congress, it will increase the number of House members for the first time in 96 years.

On Tuesday, the bill goes before the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, the first stop in the House.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat and longtime D.C. voting rights supporter, is among those scheduled to testify.

Others include Capt. Yolanda Lee, a D.C. resident and an Iraq war veteran, and Georgetown law professor Viet Dinh.

The bill passed in the House last year, but a similar Senate bill received only 57 of the 60 necessary votes.

President Obama, a Democrat and as a senator a co-sponsor of the last bill, has said he will support giving the District voting rights.

Opponents of the legislation worry that giving the District a House member will lead to the city getting two senators, both of whom likely would be Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has led opposition to the legislation, saying it is unconstitutional and that proponents first must pass a constitutional amendment.

Using the same tactic this time around may prove more difficult, because Democrats gained seats in the House and the Senate in the last election.

“We are preparing for the possibility of an amendment strategy in the Senate by our opponents,” said Ilir Zherka, the executive director of the nonprofit group DC Vote.

“That is the one thing that can slow us down. Hopefully we have the votes this time around to prevent a filibuster. We will be meeting with members of the House and Senate to gauge interest and answer questions over the next weeks to get a better sense of votes we have. We need to be cautious.”

Passage of the bill would end decades of political struggle to mitigate Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states Congress must “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District.

The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, gave the District representation in the Electoral College, and the landmark D.C. Home Rule Act, signed by President Nixon in 1973, provided local control over certain affairs, such as directly electing a mayor and council.

Congress sent the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment, which would have granted the District the same voting rights as a state, to the states for ratification in 1978. But by the time the seven-year limitation on the act had expired, only 16 states had ratified it.

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