- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

D.C. voting rights advocates are encouraged by the recent Democratic takeover of Congress, but would prefer a bill giving their representative a full vote in the House be considered before the end of this legislative session.

“For us, it’s not necessarily a matter of Democratic control versus Republican control,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group D.C. Vote. “Going into a new Congress presents new challenges and additional challenges, and we would rather complete this process now.”

The D.C. Voting Rights Act was introduced in May by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat. It would give the historically Democratic city a House vote and add a seat in the House for Utah, a Republican stronghold.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee, where proponents are pushing for committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, to allow it to be voted on by all 435 House members.

But the bill’s move out of the committee depends on Utah lawmakers approving a redistricting map. And with the current session of a Republican Congress set to end soon, time for further action is expiring.

“In sort of such a lame-duck session where you have so many members of Congress who lost their seats, I’d be surprised if the legislation came up,” said Brian Schaffner, a professor of political science at American University.

Yesterday, Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Norton, said the delegate “had the confirmed, continuing support of the new” Democratic House leadership for the bill. However, the measure must be introduced before the new Congress if no vote is taken before the current session ends.

Mr. Zherka said having to re-introduce the bill to a new Congress could create new problems. For example, new Democratic lawmakers could have concerns about adding a seat for Utah.

Other objections could be raised — again — over the redistricting of Utah, and restarting the process could be a step backward.

“Starting the process over again raises new questions that we would prefer not to have to answer and consider,” Mr. Zherka said.

Still, the prospects for D.C. voting rights may not suffer much if put off until next year.

The measure has received bipartisan support and has already gone from the House Government Reform Committee, of which Mr. Davis is chairman, to the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat who co-sponsored the measure, is in line to replace Mr. Davis as committee chairman.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat who likely will be the House’s next speaker, also co-sponsored the bill and is advocating rules allowing Mrs. Norton to vote on proposed changes to legislation.

Democrats in general are historically more supportive of giving the District voting rights, said Garry Young, director of the Center for Washington Area Studies at George Washington University.

“I don’t think the [bill’s] prospects are markedly changed, but at the same time it’s obviously an issue that’s a pet issue of a lot of Democrats,” Mr. Young said.

D.C. Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty, who has pledged to actively lobby Congress for voting rights during his transition and after he takes office Jan. 2, called the Democratic takeover a “win-win” for voting advocates.

“We can try to win in the lame duck and then when the Democrats take over, I think most people know that they’re even more likely to want to have two Democratic senators” as well, he said.


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