At the start of the 115th Congress, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton formally asked the speaker of the House for the ability to vote on amendments and procedural issues.
And, as has been routine during a Republican-majority Congress, Norton’s request met with denial.
With Democrats set to take over as the majority in the House for the 116th Congress, Norton may get her wish.
“The Democrats are talking about restoring her vote on the House floor in what’s called the Committee of the Whole, which considers amendments even though she will not be able to vote on final passage,” Norton’s communications director Benjamin Fritsch confirmed to The Washington Informer.
It was a vote that Norton enjoyed from 1991 to 1994, when Democrats controlled the House, and again from 2006 to 2010.
However, seeking to maintain a voting advantage over Democrats in the House, Republicans regularly took away that vote.
Fritsch said Norton has always been able to vote in standing committees, such as Oversight and Government Reform and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — just not floor votes.
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who once called D.C. a “laboratory” for Republican policies — had been among the more vociferous in his party to argue against voting rights for the longtime District delegate, even claiming that a constitutional amendment was needed to approve such a move.
Norton disputes that such a move is required.
“We have argued that giving her voting rights on final passage of bills would not require a constitutional amendment but a piece of legislation,” Fritsch said.
“The DC Voting Rights Act passed the House in 2007 and the Senate in 2009, but an amendment was added that would have eliminated every local gun law in the District and prevented D.C. from passing gun safety laws in the future, so it never became law,” he said.
Norton has called the push for a vote in the Committee of the Whole as a down payment on full voting rights for District residents whom she noted pays the highest federal income taxes per capita in the United States.
She said D.C. residents also have fought and died in every American war but still have no vote on the floor of the House.
Norton is again certain to have the support of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who joined the congresswoman a year ago for a press conference at the Capitol at which they pressed for voting rights.
At the conference, Bowser said a vote for Norton would represent a first step toward equal rights for District residents who pay more than $26 billion in federal income taxes.
“We’re not begging and we’re not asking for special treatment,” the mayor said. “We’re asking for equal treatment, and this is one way to do it.”
That D.C. has no vote is offensive, said D.C. Office of Veterans Affairs Director Ely S. Ross.
“It should offend every American that in our nation’s capital 30,000 veterans, who risked their lives and fought for our country, are denied the right to vote and they lack voting representation in Congress,” Ross said.
A lawsuit filed by a group of D.C. residents this week also attempts to address the city’s lack of voting rights.
The lawsuit — filed by Northwest residents Angelica Castanon, Gabriela Mossi, Alan Alper, Deborah Shore, Laurie Davis, Silvia Martinez and Vanessa Francis, Southeast resident Abby Loeffler, and Northeast residents Susannah Weaver and Manda Kelley — alleges three constitutional violations.
Those violations are the denial of Equal Protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, the denial of due process guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and infringement of the Right to Association guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The suit names the United States, House Speaker Paul Ryan and others as defendants.
“Plaintiffs are united in their desire to secure and exercise their fundamental right as citizens of this country: the right to fully participate in the electoral franchise and secure voting representation in Congress,” the residents wrote in the court filing.
Congress has vacillated between allowing D.C.’s nonvoting delegate to vote in exactly one congressional committee — the one which schedules all the House votes that the delegate is never allowed to actually vote on, according to the lawsuit.
The residents contend that allowing D.C. just one nonvoting delegate violates the constitutional principle that voting is a “fundamental” right encapsulated by another constitutional principle — “one person, one vote.”
The lawsuit notes that “Members of Congress have correctly concluded that Congress has the constitutional authority to provide voting representation in Congress to District residents under the ‘District Clause’ … of the U.S. Constitution.”
“Notwithstanding that recognition, Congress continues to deny the hundreds of thousands of Americans of voting age in the District their fundamental voting rights,” the filing notes. “It continues to do so despite the fact that other American citizens who live on federal enclaves exercise their right to vote because Congress has taken action that requires States to permit them to vote even though they live on federal land.”
The lawsuit also notes that D.C. residents previously had the right to vote with representation in Congress but that these rights were curtailed by Congress and never restored.
“It was congressional action … not action by the Framers … that effectively deprived District residents of their right to vote for full voting representation in Congress,” the filing alleges. “Although Congress has acknowledged its power under the District Clause to grant back to the District residents the right to full voting representation, Congress has failed to act, and that power has lain dormant since 1800.”