Washington, D.C. — The people of the District of Columbia were closer Tuesday to gaining the voting rights they were deprived of more than two centuries ago after the Senate agreed to take up a bill giving them a fully vested representative in Congress.
The Senate vote to debate the bill sets the stage for more legislative hurdles and a probable court challenge if the bill is enacted into law. But with the Senate action, D.C.’s 600,000 residents have their best chance of securing a real voice in Congress since a proposed constitutional amendment to enfranchise the federal capital failed a quarter-century ago.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the vote was “a very big step toward addressing a wrong that has been going on for centuries.” Congress, in enacting an 1801 law defining congressional jurisdiction over the new capital, did not provide district residents with a vote.
The bill would give the District a vote in the House starting from January 2011. To offset the near-certain Democratic pickup in D.C., it also adds a fourth seat for Republican-leaning Utah, bringing House membership to 437.