The Senate came three votes short of righting a 200-year old wrong Tuesday when it failed to achieve cloture on the D.C. Voting Rights Act. The act would have given Washington residents a voting member in Congress and an equal voice in the nation’s democracy.
The cloture vote, which would have moved the act closer to passage if successful, required 60 yeas from senators. The bill would give Washington’s non-voting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton voting power in the House.
“It was a promising vote. We will not be giving up before the end of the 110th Congress,” Doxie McCoy, Norton’s communication director, said. She defended the bill against claims that it’s unconstitutional by pointing to the District clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress power over Washington.
McCoy’s right. Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress “exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District.” That means a constitutional amendment isn’t necessary for Congress to grant the nation’s capital a voting representative.
Mayor Adrian Fenty was also hoping it would make cloture.
“He was obviously disappointed but I think he’s going to be continuing to work with Senators [Joseph] Lieberman (I-Conn.) and [Orrin] Hatch (R-Utah) to see if we can bring another cloture vote this session,” Carrie Brooks, the mayor’s communication director, said. Lieberman and Hatch were two sponsors of the bill.
It’s inexcusable that Washington, with a population larger than Wyoming’s, cannot have a Congressional representative because it’s not a state. This fallacy is recognized in the 23rd Amendment, which gave District residents a vote in the Electoral College for president and vice-president. The Voting Rights Act is a logical extension of this franchise.
Kevin Kiger, the communications director for D.C. Vote, an organization that supports the voting rights act, remained upbeat about the District’s chances for equal representation in Congress.
“Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, watch out. Senator McCain of Arizona, watch out. We’re coming,” he said, referring to two senators who voted against cloture. Kiger also cited several reasons he thought senators voted against cloture.
“Racism comes to mind, people with power are reticent to give that up and members of Congress have enjoyed using D.C. as a testing program,” he said.
He also listed partisan fighting as an obstacle for the act, even though the bill creates a reliably Republican district in Utah as well.
It’s unfair to call senators who voted against cloture racists, considering the legitimate constitutional concern surrounding the act. Whatever their reasons, though, it’s past time that the District of Columbia achieved the rights in Congress that the rest of the country has enjoyed for more than two centuries.