**FILE** D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Courtesy of NNPA)
**FILE** D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Courtesy of NNPA)

The D.C. Council has a bill, the Delegate Voting Rights Act of 2022, that would give the District’s lawmaker to the U.S. Congress a vote on the House floor on legislation that deals exclusively with the city.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) serve as the co-sponsors of the legislation. The next step for the bill would be consideration by the council’s Committee of the Whole over which Mendelson presides. Mendelson said the bill stands as a step in the right direction in terms of congressional representation for District residents.

“D.C. residents deserve a full-fledged congressman,” said Mendelson at a Ward 8 Democrats candidates forum on April 23. “If this measure passes, it would strengthen our delegate’s role in the Congress. While the ultimate goal in D.C. is statehood, we cannot just sit around and do nothing waiting for that to happen. This bill is a good start.”

Specifically, the bill would amend the Delegate Act of 1970 that Congress passed and President Nixon signed into law establishing a non-voting federal legislator representing the District. The amendment would make the delegate eligible to vote on all District matters in the U.S. House of Representatives but nothing else. Before Home Rule in the District became functional in 1974, Congress served as the District’s legislative body. Mendelson and Cheh argue that the D.C. Council has the right to amend the Delegate Act because it currently serves as the District’s legislative body. Additionally, both believe the Delegate Voting Rights Act will likely become law because Congress won’t have the time to overrule it.

“Given the current political make-up of Congress, provided the council moves quickly to make this change, it seems highly unlikely to be overturned with the result that for the first time in history, D.C. will have a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives,” said Walter Smith, the executive director of the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Inc., a think-tank specializing in District issues.

Smith said while the Delegate Voting Rights Act falls short of full congressional representation, it would be a good start.

“It is true that this step forward would be less than the full representation to which we are entitled and it is only a small step toward the ultimate goal of statehood,” Smith said. “Even so, it will be an important step forward and it is one we can and should undertake now.”

Bo Shuff, executive director of DC Vote, an organization tasked with securing statehood for the District, said he likes the Delegate Voting Rights Act.

“We support any legislation that would give the District self-determination and the bill [represents] a creative approach,” he said. “We agree with measures that DC Appleseed supports. We are behind every approach that is reasonable on the road to statehood.”

But while some statehood advocates embrace the bill, others say they’re less enthusiastic.

“I think the council bill is progress but it’s not statehood,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) at the Ward 8 Democrats forum. “I’m not opposed to it but the bill shows the frustration D.C. leaders have when it comes to the pace of passing my statehood bills. D.C. leaders are looking at whatever they can get at this point.”

The Rev. Wendy Hamilton, a competitor of Norton’s in the June 21 Democratic primary, said she supports the bill but has concerns. 

“I think there are some on Capitol Hill who would see the bill as the final step for D.C. as far as statehood is concerned,” Hamilton said. “What we want is for the District to become the 51st state.”

While Norton and Hamilton have lukewarm support for the District Voting Rights Act, Anise Jenkins, the executive director for Stand Up! for Democracy in DC, said she’s opposed to the bill.

“This is not a good idea,” Jenkins said. “It seems to me they are trying to pacify us. What we want is statehood and nothing less.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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