- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DENVER | Activists and local politicians pushing for D.C. voting rights in Congress are borrowing some of the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention for their perennial cause, which has broad support among Democrats.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, called on convention delegates to support voting rights for the District in her floor speech yesterday. And voting rights activist group DC Vote aired a one-minute music video highlighting its fight.

Convention delegates from the District plan to cross the protest lines today to call for full voting rights in Congress, and activists have been lobbying Democratic delegates all week.

“It’s the greatest group of disenfranchised voters in the country,” said Tom Hucker, a Maryland state lawmaker from Montgomery County and a delegate for Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. “It’s a scandal if they don’t have adequate representation.”

The convention protests and speeches are part of a national campaign that voting rights activists have charted since the start of the year.

Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, outreach director for DC Vote and an Obama convention delegate, said lobbying efforts inside the Beltway had become stale and the group needed a new tack.

“We basically have just been fighting the battle here,” he said. “We realized who listens to their constituents, so we had to get in front of them.”

The group traveled around the country to lobby in the home states of senators who blocked the voting rights measure in the Senate last year.

The obvious next step is going to the Republican National Convention, Mr. Kinlow said.

“We know the media is going to dissect the convention. We hope to gain the attention of the country,” he said.

A measure to grant the Democrat-leaning District full voting rights in the House, as well as an additional vote for Republican-leaning Utah, failed in the Senate last year. The measure passed the House, with the support of more than 20 Republicans who joined with the Democrat-led majority.

The measure has gained little traction this year, although organizers are hopeful it will gain some attention after Congress returns from recess.

D.C. voting rights supporters have long had support from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other Democratic city leaders.

Mr. Fenty led a group of city council members and DC Vote organizers to New Hampshire in January to testify in favor of a state lawmaker’s proposal supporting D.C. voting rights.

“It’s critical for us to have a presence in an election year in which all eyes are on having your vote and your voice count,” said Jaline Quinto, a spokeswoman for DC Vote.

More than 50 volunteers had signed up to help the group at the Democratic convention, and more than 35 had signed up to work the Republican gathering, Miss Quinto said.

“Most people just don’t know that residents of D.C. are denied a vote in Congress,” she said.

The group plans to distribute 10,000 wooden nickels at the Democratic convention, playing on the group’s saying “American democracy isn’t worth a wooden nickel without a vote in Congress.”

“More than 600,000 residents are denied a voice in our governance,” said David Meadows, spokesman for the D.C. Democratic Party. “We have our sons and daughters putting their lives in jeopardy to bring democracy to Iraq, and we don’t even have democracy in the nation’s capital.”

Mrs. Norton is granted a vote in the committees she serves on, but is not allowed to take part in votes involving the full House of Representatives.

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